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Inquiring readers,

During the Covid-19 lock down, I’ve missed traveling around my country. I intended to go abroad as well, but had to lay those plans aside. The internet affords me a way to satisfy my wanderlust.

Today as I e-searched Jane Austen’s gardens and her family’s use of fruits and herbs in making wines and home medicines, I discovered this lovely blog by author Susan Branch. Susan visited Chawton Cottage in 2012. Her photos and delightful narrative of her trip add to those I featured from blog contributors Tony Grant and Rachel Dodge. I’m publishing the first 20% of Susan’s post and will then link to her blog. Enjoy!

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage in 2012

Jane Austen

On our last day in England in the spring of 2012, just a few hours before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for our trip home, we stopped to visit Jane Austen’s house in a little country town called Chawton. I can’t say we saved the best for last, because everything we saw was “best.”  But this house was wonderful and better than I ever imagined it could be.  It’s in Hampshire, centrally located in the south of  England (very close to Southampton) — you can see it on the map on page six of my book chronicling this magical trip called   A FINE ROMANCE.

"Marry me, my wonderful darling friend" Quote by Mr. Knightley to Emma in the orchard

Crossroads

Sign to Chawton Cottage, the car park St. Nicholas church and Chawton House, and the village. Image courtesy Susan Branch.

First off, you have to know how this quiet neighborhood sounded this day!  The only sound missing is “my-toe-hurts-bet-tee” the nature national anthem of England, but there were wood pigeons cooing liltingly from every branch!

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage with a view of the visitor entrance. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

This is the 17th century house where Jane Austen did some of her most important work.  She lived here from 1809 to 1817, and published four novels during that time, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

How beautiful!  Let’s go find a parking space!

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

After parking, we walked for a little bit through the leafy old neighborhood and something interesting happened.  I took a picture of this little Jack Russell in a window of the house across the street from Jane’s and posted it here on the blog.  Later, after we returned home, I received an email from the owner of this house!  Her name is Mary and the dog’s name is Basil!  Mary had just happened upon our blog.  Isn’t that amazing? What a small world!  She’s actually written a cute children’s book about Basil which she sent to me . . .

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

 Many of the homes in Chawton have thatched roofs like Mary’s.  It’s a darling town ~ and we only had one afternoon. I wish we’d saved more time for this ~ there’s a lot of wonderfulness to see here.  Keep that in mind for when you go and have at least one full day.

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click here  to enter Susan’s blog. Note her journey through Chawton village, the rooms through the cottage, and her walk in the gardens.

well behaved women rarely make history signBTW, I noticed on Susan’s sidebar a saying that I keep in my office. Sisters always have a way of finding each other!!

Other posts on this blog about Chawton Cottage and Chawton House

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Inquiring Readers,

After experiencing years of an Austen drought on the large and small screen, we are treated to two adaptations within a half year–Sanditon and the newly released Emma.

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma, the film will air in theaters in my region on March 6th. Sadly, I won’t see the film until late next week, but my British friend Tony Grant has reviewed it. He writes in part:

My thoughts were, will Autumn de Wilde’s Emma get Austen’s subtleties concerning the different relationships right? Will the actors be any good? All is lost if they can’t cut the mustard. What might we get out of this Emma that speaks to us in 2020? Will the film tell Jane Austen’s story well?

The film begins, focusing in from an expansive bucolic scene of green pastures and wooded areas to an iconic 18thcentury mansion, Hartfield. We hone down to a gothic styled greenhouse and enter to a scene of peace and calm and meditative background music as Emma, played by Anya Taylor Joy, slowly, carefully moves, almost like floating in a dream, examining her blooming red roses while servant girls hover, secateurs poised ready to snip the stem of any flower Emma thinks fit. Anya Taylor’s eyes look and roam and pierce us to our souls. Oh! those eyes. She pauses, she considers, she moves on and decides, “That one.” And the flower is cut. This opening scene is very clever and says in this silent dreamlike ballet of a scene all that Austen says in the opening words of her novel.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” 

The film is lit  brightly and the colours, not just of the costumes, but of the scenery too has a pale pastel sheen, which can only be achieved through the cinematography.–-To read the rest of Tony Grant’s review, click this link to London Calling, his blog.

In anticipation of seeing the film, I’ve been reading Robert Rodi’s take on Emma in Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps. (Yes, he’s that sarcastic, but witty, wise, and fun.) I particularly liked this passage, which shows Emma’s animus towards Augusta Elton shortly after she paid Mr. Elton and his new missus a visit:

Eventually Mrs. Elton return the visit, and Emma has plenty of time for her options to coalesce. And she really, really, really does not like this chick. Not. One. Little. Bit.

Rodi then goes on to quote this Austen passage:

“The quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she want to shine and be very superior…”

Rodi does not stop there, but I paused at these words for a long moment. The qualities Emma dislikes about Mrs. Elton are the same qualities she possesses. Augusta, of course is different from Emma. She’s coarse, grasping, and aggressively power hungry, whereas Emma is the well-bred young lady described in the movie’s publicity: a well meaning but selfish young woman [who] meddles in the love lives of her friends.

The comic characters in Emma are among Austen’s finest, and I look forward in revisiting them in this film, especially in the forms of Miranda Hart as Miss Bates and Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse.

 

 

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Although I won’t see the film for some time, please feel free to leave your opinions if you have them.

Meanwhile, enjoy Tony Grant’s review at the top of this blog!

 

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Inquiring readers: One reason I love Tony Grant’s submissions is the wonderful original images that he takes of the sites he discusses – in this instance, Bath and Persuasion, Jane Austen’s final and arguably her best novel. Enjoy the article, as well as Tony’s photographic images.

I think Persuasion is Jane Austen’s most mature novel. It deals with patriarchy, misogyny, narcissism, snobbery, class structure, schemes to move up the class ladder, and the consequences of moving down the class ladder.  It also portrays the strength of a good woman. Persuasion begins to subvert the old ways of doing things. The novel covers the whole gamut of life and shows what it is to be a Georgian, with resonances for our own time in the status of women.

The Baronetage_internetarchive

The Baronetage from the Internet archive

Persuasion starts with Sir Walter Elliot perusing his favorite book, The Baronetage, which is about primogeniture – a system where the family’s fortune was left to the eldest son when the father died. Primogeniture lasted for centuries and was an example of patriarchy that encouraged misogyny, but society and the world were changing during Austen’s era.

The Elliot’s ancestry is described in The Baronetage and Sir Walter reads the entry concerning his family obsessively. He is exceedingly vain about his position in life and his looks. As Jane describes him: “Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character.”

After Lady Elliot’s death, Sir Walter spends beyond his means, a foolish habit that will lead to his financial ruin if he does not curb his lifestyle. His agent, Mr. Shepherd, strongly advises Sir Walter to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to Bath to save what little of his inheritance remains. Once there, the ever vain and critical Sir Walter encounters few women who meet his exacting standards of beauty:

“He had frequently observed as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five and thirty frights; and once as he stood in a shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without their being a tolerable face among them.”

The Baronetage

Sir Walter’s social maneuverings in Bath are dictated by the principles laid out in The Baronetage. In Georgian society there was some movement within the middle classes and the lower aristocracy. Sir Walter is in danger of being reduced in importance because of his financial difficulties, brought about after his wife’s death. Lady Elliot had kept Sir Walter’s expenses in check and he soon faced financial ruin without her sensible influence.

The Baronetage lists a still-born son for Sir Walter and Lady Elliot. Ever conscious of the succession of his line, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne count for nothing as far as inheritance goes.  Sir Walter, therefore, desires to renew relations with Mr. William Elliot, his godson and heir. This relationship, however, has a “very awkward history,” with Mr. Elliot, in a most ungentleman-like fashion, abandoning his courtship of his cousin Elizabeth in favor of marriage to an older, rich woman of no distinction. Consequently, the family ceased all contact with the presumptive heir.

Sir Walter also discovers that his cousin, Viscountess Dalrymple, has arrived in Bath. Because of a past misunderstanding – he had ignored the news of her husband’s death – he lost contact with her.  Sir Walter now thinks it an excellent idea to boost the importance of himself and his family by renewing contact with the Viscountess.  An association with her would elevate the Elliots in the eyes of Bath Society.

Sir Walter has no regard for people of no importance and with no influence. He pours scorn on his youngest daughter, Anne, regarding her friendship with an old school acquaintance, Mrs. Smith, who lives in a poor area of Bath. Anne has none of her father’s social ambitions. She would rather spend an evening with Mrs. Smith, who is widowed and impoverished. Mrs. Smith, who is careful with her limited finances, is a cheerful, intelligent and kind person, qualities that attract Anne but mean nothing to Sir Walter.  Anne continues her relationship with Mrs. Smith despite her father’s protestations, and doesn’t think associating with Viscountess Dalrymple a good idea at all.

Bath’s Urban Geography and Status

Urban geography plays an important role in Persuasion. When it comes to Bath, status depends on where you live and in what street.

Sir Walter Elliot and his three daughters, along with Mrs. Clay, the snaggle-toothed, widowed daughter of Mr. Shepherd, and a mere companion to Elizabeth, move to Camden Place, a fine Georgian terrace in the northern part of Bath. This terrace overlooks the rest of Bath, an ideal place for snobbish Sir Walter to look down upon the city. The geographic location fits Sir Walter’s belief in himself, both morally and emotionally.

Westgate Buildings are situated close to the Roman Baths at the bottom of the hill in town. Mrs. Smith lodges in two rooms amongst the shops and makes do in the hustle and bustle and turmoil of town noises and traffic.

Mr. Elliot and friends stay in Marlborough Buildings, a terrace of fine houses that slope down steeply from the west side of The Royal Crescent, the most salubrious address in Bath. Mr. Elliot visits Sir Walter in Camden Place after a visit in Landsdowne Crescent. Landsdowne Crescent is also one of the northern crescents above Bath, directly north of The Royal Crescent, to the west of Camden Place and on an equal footing to Camden Place.

Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret, stay in style in Laura Place. Laura Place is a set of four elegant terraces that surround a lozenge shaped “circus” with “Laura Fountain,” in the centre.

Great Pulteney Street leads off it towards Sydney Gardens and the Holbourne Museum. To the west of Laura Place is Pulteney Bridge, once known as Old Bridge, over which Lady Russell and Anne Elliot pass into Bath.

As one passes over the bridge and the River Avon, one almost immediately encounters Bath Abbey.

The Lower Assembly Rooms are a little to the left. Mrs. Smith’s lodgings in Westgate Buildings are also close to the Abbey, but in the town.

Laura Place is outside the town, on the opposite banks of The Avon, in an area of splendid elegance and wide avenues. Obscurely, Camden Place is high on the hills directly above Laura Place where Sir Walter can certainly keep an eye on things.

Lady Russell, an old friend of Lady Elliot, is a sensible, wise person who takes a sort of unofficial care of the Elliots after the death of their mother, especially of Anne, for whom she has a special fondness. She personally brings Anne to Bath after Sir Walter, Mary and Mrs. Clay have already settled in. Lady Russell, a widower, occupies a town house in Rivers Street, which is close to Camden Place. The street is comprised of elegant town houses, probably smaller than those of Camden Place. Rivers Street suits Lady Russell. It is a place of genteel comfort for a sensible person of means who lives according to her fortune and within her budget.

 

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Anne Elliot

Lady Russell is one of the more stable, pleasant and thoughtful characters in Persuasion. She is “… of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for.”

Anne Elliot, her protegee, had “an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with the father or sister: “

To Lady Russell Anne was “…a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favorite and friend. Lady Russell loved them all; but it was only in Anne that she could fancy the mother to revive again.”

Compared to Anne, Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret “…were nothing. There was no superiority of manner, accomplishment or understanding. Lady Dalrymple had had acquired the name of,” a charming woman,” because she had a smile and a civil answer for everybody. Miss Carteret, with still less to say, was so plain and so awkward, that she could never have been tolerated in Camden Place if it were not for her birth.”

Self-serving Mr. Elliot recognizes Anne’s outstanding qualities. She smiled and said, “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company…”

Persuasion and the changing order

There is something subversive going on in Persuasion. Underlying the novel is The Baronetage and Sir Walter’s rule of life, which lead to the cause of Elizabeth’s pain. Hereditary, class, position are the yardsticks by which Sir Walter lives, but adherence to the old order doesn’t do him or Elizabeth the best of service.

Anne, Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Smith and the three naval captains, Wentworth, Harville and Benwick either overtly or inadvertently create the vision of a new world, where affection and love are the primary drivers. Ordinary people were being noticed. The Industrial Revolution 1760 to 1740 had social and economic ramifications far beyond its time. Wilberforce and his cronies were campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Science was making great bounds forwards. Gilbert White, who died in 1793 and who lived at Selborne, a mere three miles from Chawton, Austen’s final home, changed the course of science through his direct observations of wildlife in nature, which set the scientific strategy for Darwin’s first voyage on the Beagle in 1833, a mere 15 years after Jane Austen died. Persuasion seems to presage these developments through the relationships and views challenged and promoted in the novel.

Probably more controversial, especially for the time Jane Austen was writing, are the echoes of The French Revolution. Ideas espoused by the Revolution were bound to be heard and discussed in Britain by such men as Charles James Fox. But what about the women?

Louisa Musgrove’s jump from The Cobb in Lyme onto the cobbled pavement below and striking her head, rendering her unconscious, is suggestive of women like Anne Elliot taking charge and making a decisive contribution over and above men. This theme is similar to the political and social ideology women were advocating in France.

“Is there no one to help me?” were the first words which burst from Captain Wentworth, in a tone of despair, and as if all his own strength were gone.

“Go to him, go to him,” cried Anne [to Captain Benwick], “for heaven’s sake go to him. I can support her myself. Leave me and go to him. Rub her hands, rub her temples; here are salts,- take them, take them.” Captain Benwick obeyed…… everything was done that Anne had prompted…”

 

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Surely this scene is in the spirit of Charlotte Corday, Pauline Leon and Theroigne de Mericourt, who agitated for full citizenship for women. Three Royal Naval Captains who commanded Royal Naval men of war became helpless in this emergency, and only a woman, Anne Elliot, direct and assertive, took charge.

Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion was published in 1818 after her death. Anne Bronte’s novel, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, was published thirty years later in 1848. Both deal with moral issues and patriarchy. The difference between the two is stark. Jane Austen holds a mirror up to society and says: this is the way things are. Nothing really terrible happens in Persuasion. Jane Austen portrays a very gentle revolution.  The Tennant of Wildfell Hall deals with misogyny, patriarchy, and the terrible abuse of a woman. Anne Bronte’s writing is disturbing and visceral; mind and heart changing. Jane Austen’s writing is gently comic, but it’s also getting us there.

Find Tony Grant’s blog, London Calling, at this link. http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

 

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Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

 

Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within woodland near the shore of Southampton Water, not far from The Hamble River and within view of the Isle of Wight.

Google street view entrance Netley

Google street view: Entrance to Netley Castle

I remember my grandmother telling me about a White Lady, who has been seen on occasions wafting through the ruins of Netley. She reputedly had been incarcerated within a bricked up space within the Abbey. Quite a horrific thought. She told me also of the dark presence of a black clad monk that sometimes appeared in the ruined entrances to the cloisters within the Abbey’s precinct.

Abbey Church wall and pillars 1

Netley Abbey’s ruined walls and pillars: Image Tony Grant

Another story tells of a builder at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Abbey’s stones and bricks were being recycled as building material, and how part of the arched window at the western end of the abbey church fell on him, fatally injuring him. Stories like this, imagined and real, were useful in keeping Netley Abbey in a substantial state. These stories became vivid images in the mind of a small boy.

netley3

Netley Abbey arches. Image Tony Grant

My friends and I would walk to Netley or take the green Hants and Dorset bus there. We clambered over the ruins of the Abbey in daylight, imagining what might happen at night, especially in the dim glow of a full moon and with the hooting of owls. Many trees around the Abbey have crows nests high up in their branches and the harsh echo of their shrieking almost always pervades the air around and above the Abbey ruins. I remember our young selves feeling scared and worried but drawn helplessly to this haunted place.

Early History of the Abbey

Netley Abbey is the most complete set of Cistercian monastic ruins in England. Peter de Roches, the Bishop of Winchester founded Netley in 1238. Unfortunately, he died soon after and before building work on the Abbey had begun. However, a group of monks from Beaulieu Abbey in The New Forest arrived in Netley a year later, in 1239, and probably lived in wooden huts while the Abbey was under construction. King Henry III (1216-1272) became the patron of Netley. On one of the remaining stone pillar bases inside the church ruins, a clear inscription shows Henry III’s name.

Plan_of_Netley_Abbey (1)

Map of Netley Abbey ca. 1300 – modern times

The Cistercians were an order founded by Robert Molesme in 1089. He was a Benedictine who felt that the Benedictines had abandoned the life of simplicity the rule of St Benedict stated. He set about rectifying this. The monks set up an Abbey at Citeaux in France that gave them their name, Cistercian. They returned to a life of manual work and prayer and dedicated themselves to the ideal of charity and self-sustenance. This is very much the lifestyle the monks at Netley followed.

Fifteen monks and thirty lay brothers lived at Netley, along with officials and servants. They provided sustenance and shelter to travelers and extensively farmed the land around Netley. Interestingly, only a few miles away St. Mary the Virgin, Hound Parish Church, at nearby Hamble le Rice on the Hamble River, was founded by Benedictines separately from the Cistercians at Netley. Bishop Giffard of Winchester had established a cell of Benedictine monks at Hamble Le Rice by the 12th century. These monks came from the Abbey of Tiron in France. (Images below by Tony Grant.)

In 1536 Henry VIII began the suppression of the monasteries in England. The destruction of the monasteries transformed the power and political structures in England. Henry had cut himself off from Rome and had made himself the head of the church in England. He destroyed the monastery system for the wealth they provided and also to suppress political opposition. The monasteries and the church had been a social and political force that in some ways had been more powerful than the monarchy itself. Church property in England had been home to 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Henry sold the land to landowners. Some of the buildings became churches of the church of England, such as Durham Cathedral. Many were left to ruin ,such as Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley on the border of England and Wales. The monks who resisted were executed. The majority were pensioned off. Some of the funds Henry gathered were used to set up educational establishments, such as Trinity College Cambridge and Christ Church Oxford. One disastrous result from the dissolution of the monasteries was the destruction of entire monastic libraries, including the loss of many ancient music manuscripts.

The Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries

Netley Abbey however, was not destroyed but given to Sir William Paulet as a reward for his loyal services. He’d held a number of high profile jobs, including the Treasurer to the Royal Household. Sir William turned the Abbey into a private mansion and reused many of the Abbeys existing buildings. The cloisters became a courtyard. He demolished the monk’s refectory and built an elaborate turreted entrance. The mansion remained inhabited until 1704 when the then owner started selling it off for building materials. The Tudor adaptations were mostly removed in the later 19th century, although sections of brickwork can be found within today’s remaining structure.

netleyb

Netley Abbey. Image Tony Grant

The Tudors built with brick and these are the few remaining Tudor parts.

The Abbey’s Role in Gothic Revival Architecture

NPG 6520,Horatio ('Horace') Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford,by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Horatio Walpole

Netley Abbey played an important role in the 18th and 19th century Gothic revival. Horace Walpole, the 4th earl of Orford, visited Netley Abbey on September 18th 1755. His original name was Horatio Walpole, (born Sept. 24, 1717, London—died March 2, 1797). He was the son of England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Horace Walpole was an English writer, connoisseur, and collector who was famous in his day for his medieval horror tale, The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, which initiated the vogue for Gothic romances. He is remembered today as perhaps the most assiduous letter writer in the English language. Walpole wrote to his friend Richard Bentley. He had been staying with his friend, Chute, at The Vyne near Basingstoke. They had departed on a trip to visit Winchester and Southampton. While in Southampton they visited Netley Abbey. Walpole wrote:

“Mr Chute persuaded me to take a jaunt to Winchester and Netley Abbey with the latter of which he is very justly enchanted.”

In his letter, Walpole doesn’t seem to think much about Winchester, “it is a paltry town,” but he enthused about Netley Abbey.

“The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roofs pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy — many trees are sprouted up amongst the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses! A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood: the fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains with two small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill: on each side breaks in the view of the Southampton sea, deep blue, glistering with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calshot castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise.— Oh! the purple abbots, what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, that they seem only to have retired into the world.”

Thomas Gray, English Poet

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771)

Thomas Gray

Horace Walpole goes on to mention that his friend Thomas Gray had visited Netley previously. Gray had written a letter about his visit to Netley to the Rev. N. Nichols:

 “Monday, 19th November 1764.

In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey. There may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees that bend into half a circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man!) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building and have excluded a view too garish and too luxuriant for a holy eye: only, on either hand, they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not, for all the world, pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.”

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is widely known for his, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,”published in 1751.

Gray’s ,”Elegy written in a country churchyard,” was completed in 1750 and first published in 1751.  The poem was completed when Gray was living near St Giles’ parish church at Stoke Poges. It was sent to his friend Horace Walpole, who popularised the poem among London literary circles. Here is an extract that might evoke the atmosphere of Netley.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

John Constable

John Constable, RA (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837)

John Constable

John Constable, 1776 – 1837, is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio. His pictures are popular today, but they were not well received in England during his lifetime. His most famous pictures include ,”The Hay Wain,” and a series of paintings, sketches and drawings of Salisbury Cathedral from the water meadows. He painted many pictures in the area of East Bergholt, Suffolk, where he was born and brought up.

Constable and his wife visited Netley Abbey, Hampshire on their honeymoon in 1816. One of the drawings made on that occasion was the basis for this much later watercolour.

Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 by John Constable 1776-1837

Constable Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

It resembles the designs Constable painted in 1833 to illustrate an edition of Gray’s ‘Elegy.’

George Keate

George Keate, another visitor to Netley Abbey, was born on 30 November 1729 at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where his father had property. He was educated by the Rev. Richard Wooddeson of Kingston upon Thames, together with Gilbert Wakefield, William Hayley, Francis Maseres, and others.

On leaving school, Keate was articled as clerk to Robert Palmer, steward to the Duke of Bedford. He entered the Inner Temple in 1751, was called to the bar in 1753, and in 1791 was made bencher of his inn, but never practised the law. In 1850, when his mother died, he inherited his family’s money. For some years he lived abroad, mainly at Geneva, where he knew Voltaire. By 1755 he was in Rome. After settling in England, Keate, began to write. He was in turn poet, naturalist, antiquary, and artist. A founder member of the Society of Artists in 1761, he left it for the Royal Academy in 1768. Keate was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. In 1764 he wrote this poem about Netley Abbey entitled,

The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem.” Here is an extract.

More welcome far the Shades of this wild Wood
Skirting with cheerful Green the seabeat Sands,
Where NETLEY, near the Margin of the Flood
In lone Magnificence a Ruin stands.

How chang’d alas! from that rever’d Abode
Which spread in ancient Days so wide a Fame,
When votive Monks these sacred Pavements trod,
And swell’d each Echo with JEHOVAH’S Name!

Now sunk, deserted, and with Weeds o’ergrown,
Yon aged Walls their better Years bewail;
Low on the Ground their loftiest Spires are thrown,
And ev’ry Stone points out a moral Tale.

Mark how the Ivy with Luxuriance bends
Its winding Foliage through the cloister’d Space,
O’er the green Window’s mould’ring Height ascends,
And seems to clasp it with a fond Embrace.—

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding

In 1826 Copeley Fielding visited Netley Abbey and produced this water colour.

Copeley Fielding Sept 22nd 1826

Copeley Fielding Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (22 November 1787 – 3 March 1855), commonly called Copley Fielding, was an English painter born in Sowerby, near Halifax, and famous for his watercolour landscapes. At an early age Fielding became a pupil of John Varley. In 1810 he became an associate exhibitor in the Old Water-colour Society, in 1813 a full member, and in 1831 President of that body (later known as the Royal Society of Watercolours), until his death.

In 1824, Copley Fielding won a gold medal at the Paris Salon alongside Richard Parkes Bonington and John Constable. He also engaged largely in teaching the art. He later moved to Park Crescent in Worthing and died in the town in March 1855.

Origins of Gothic Novels

1795 Richard Warner wrote a potboiler entitled Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in two volumes, featuring skullduggery at the abbey during the middle ages.

Netley Abbey: A Gothic novel by Richard Warner, 1795

John Mullins, in an article about ,”The Origins of the Gothic,” published in 2014 for the British Library, writes,

“Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the ,”Gothic,”to a novel in the subtitle-“A Gothic Story,” – or, “The Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764. Mullins writes that when Walpole used the word Gothic he meant ,”barbarous,” as well as, “deriving from the middle ages.

150px-Ann_Radcliffe

Anne Radcliffe, Wikipedia Commons

In the 1790s novelists rediscovered what Walpole had imagined. Anne Radcliffe wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) She created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, who threatens the resourceful heroine Emily with an unspeakable fate. Radcliffe’s fiction was the natural target for Jane Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland imposes her ,”Gothic,” thoughts and ideas on the real world of the Tilneys.”

Reading novels and novels of the Gothic genre especially are one of Catherine Morland’s greatest pleasures. When meeting her new friend Isabella Thorpe in the Pump Room, Isabella enquires why Catherine is late.

”But my dearest Catherine what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?”

Catherine had and they began to discuss the plot.

“… and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

These ”same kind” included, Castle of Wolfenbebavch, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine and Horrid Mysteries. Actually the titles alone set a gloomy mysterious dark mood. The enthusiasm of Isabella and Catherine for these novels seem to be echoed by Jane Austen’s tense, breathlessness that emerges from her writing. Is there a tone of cynicism and ridicule too in their listing? Although Austen exaggerates the Gothic genre you can’t help thinking that she must have read all of these novels herself, how else would she know them? Her close mimicking of the genre in Northanger Abbey also points to the realization that she absorbed all the traits of the Gothic genre and was using those effects to her own great delight. I think Jane Austen loved the Gothic genre even as she seems to ridicule it. It was a guilty pleasure to her, perhaps.

Jane Austen – full circle from Netley and Southampton to Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

Jane Austen, watercolour by her sister Cassandra, National Portrait Gallery

In 1806, Jane Austen, her mother Cassandra, her sister Cassandra, her friend Martha Lloyd and her brother, Francis’s new bride, Mary Gibson moved into a house in Castle Square Southampton rented from Lord Landsdown. The previous year, 1805, George Austen her father had died in Bath. Her mother, herself and her sister were in straightened circumstances. They had to rely quite heavily on Jane’s brothers for support. Francis was to be away at sea and his new bride, Mary, was already pregnant. She needed the support of the women in the family. Francis was to sail from Portsmouth but being a naval port it was not entirely suitable for his new wife, and his mother and sisters. Southampton, nineteen miles along the coast, was far more genteel.

The Austens knew Southampton and the surrounding areas well. Jane had visited Southampton on a number of occasions before moving there again in 1806. The family would often take trips into the surrounding areas, going to Beaulieu in the New Forest or take boat trips to the Isle of Wight. They would also go by rowing boat from The Itchen Ferry to Netley. Jane writing to Cassandra from Castle Square on Tuesday 25th October 1808,

“ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I intend to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine but I am afraid there will be rain.”

Edward and George, Jane’s brother Edward’s boys, were staying with Jane at Castle Square. Their mother had died and they were receiving letters from their father about what was to happen. Both boys were naturally upset and Jane took their wellbeing into hand. She appears to have been quite successful keeping the boys occupied with a series of adventures. Netley Abbey must have had an effect on Austen. The Abbey had influenced novelists, poets and artists. Horace Walpole, the originator of the Gothic form, had been impressed by it. We can surmise that her visit to Netley Abbey influenced Jane’s reading of the Gothic novels and so influenced her writing of Northanger Abbey. Or perhaps her fondness for reading Gothic novels influenced her visit to Netley Abbey. It was, after all, a well-known beauty spot.

NorthangerPersuasionTitlePage

Northanger Abbey/Persuasion title page, Wikipedia Commons

Northanger Abbey was ready for publication in 1803 but was not published until December 1817 after Jane’s death in July of that year. From the tone of the letter, we can gather Netley was a well-known place to the Austen family. Prior to 1806, Jane had previously lived or stayed in Southampton: In 1783, when Mrs Crawley moved her school to Southampton from Reading; and also in 1793 at the age of 17 to stay with a cousin, Elizabeth Butler Harris, née Austen. Jane celebrated her 18th birthday at a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street. She may well have been introduced to Netley Abbey on either of those occasions.

Whether Netley Abbey had an influence on Jane’s writing of Northanger Abbey or not, it was a place that had an influence on those connected with the Gothic movement.

Here is a description of Catherine Moorland experiencing Northanger Abbey at night.

“The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of aw; and, when she heard it rage round a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the firs time that she was really in an Abbey.- Yes, these were characteristic sounds;- they brought to her recollection a countless variety of dreadful situations and horrid scenes, which such buildings had witnessed….”

Bibliography:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, first published 1818, (Penguin Classic 2006.)

Jane Austen’s Letters New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition 1995 Oxford University Press.

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding 1787–1855 biography TATE BRITAIN

John Constable 1776–1837 biography TATE BRITAIN

Horace Walpole TO RICHARD BENTLEY, ESQ. Strawberry Hill, September 18, 1755.

George Keate: Wikipaedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Keate

Netley Abbey   English Heritage.

The Origins of the Gothic,” John Mullins published in 2014 for the British Library.

 

 

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Inquiring readers,

In celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma, frequent contributor, Tony Grant, visited Chawton House to view a special exhibit. Read his post about the exhibit on Jane Austen in Vermont in this link. Tony reserved a slew of photos for this blog and added his commentary. I inserted some observations by Constance Hill and Jane’s grand niece to round out this post. Enjoy!

Chawton is a Hampshire village and civil parish. It lies within the area of the South Downs National Park. The 2000 census shows that 380 people live in Chawton.

Google map

Google map of Chawton, and Chawton Cottage and Chawton House in relation to each other.

Chawton village is first mentioned in 1086 in the Domesday Book which was administered from Winchester, the first capital of England, under William the Conqueror,after 1066. The fact that the village lies on a main route from London to Portsmouth by way of Winchester suggests that because of its important position there must have been a Saxon settlement there before 1066 and possibly going back to Iron Age times. The Normans did instigate the creation of new villages such as at West Meon a few miles south of Chawton but most settlements were continued from previous ages. Its location shows it as perhaps a stopping place on a major route but its prime importance would have been farming.

Farming must have been its main importance right up to and after the second world war. Chawton House and its estate has sheep and horses on it to this day. There are still many farms in the area. However the population today is not what it would have been in the past. In previous centuries there would have been representatives of the whole range of the class system.

The Great House

The great house at Chawton owned by the Knight family, image by Tony Grant

The Knight family owned the great house and estate and most famously from the early nineteenth century, Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother. The middle classes would have been represented by Jane Austen and her family and perhaps the local vicar of the parish of St Nicholas and some minor landowners and farmers. Probably the working class and farm labourer class predominated though. There are plenty of small Victorian cottages, Georgian cottages and cottages dating back to the 16th century and before in Chawton and surrounding areas. These would have been accommodation for farm workers. Nowadays though these cottages surrounded by idealistic country gardens, climbing roses and wisteria, looking picture postcard perfect, are owned by wealthy people who work in the City and use them as weekend homes.

There are examples of large Georgian and Victorian mansions in the village. They can only be owned by company directors or wealthy bankers and other people of that ilk. Looking at estate agent web sites for Chawton, a mansion such as the one you can see at the start of the long driveway that leads to Chawton House, is priced at £2,000,000. The small picture postcard cottages start at about £350,000. The prices of the two properties I have quoted are the top and bottom of the range.

The ordinary, everyday worker is excluded. I am sure there are no farm labourers are living in Chawton these days.This is a shame because local customs are lost. The rich diverse local customs formed over time by families living there for their whole lives, generation after generation, is lost and although Chawton looks lovely today it has lost to a certain extent, its heart. It has lost its soul.

car park

Chawton Car Park, Image Google earth

All is not lost. The other day I walked from the car park, opposite Jane Austen’s cottage next to the Greyfriar pub, along the road to Chawton House Library. On my left, through the trees and across the children’s playground a gentleman was sitting astride a motor mower cutting the grass on the village cricket pitch. I could see that the sight screens were in place for a match and the cricket club flag was flying from the club house flagpole.

Sight screen on the cricket pitch

Sight of village cricket pitch. Image by Tony Grant

As I approached the Great House I passed Chawton Village Junior School on my right. Put in mind that this was midweek, a Wednesday, and the time was 12.30. The school was in the middle of its lunch break and a whole mass of children were playing in the playground on climbing frames and ladders. They were yelling and whooping and having the time of their lives. I always feel heart warmed at the sound of children. I have spent my whole working life as a teacher teaching them after all. So really there are three things.

Chawton has a great pub, The Greyfriars, it has a wonderful vibrant school and the village a cricket team. A new heart has been created perhaps? Yes, not all is lost.

junction

Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage is straight ahead. To the right is Cassandra’s Cup, a tea house attached to The Greyfriar pub.

Chawton Cottage, a former steward’s cottage, was previously home to local farmers. Between 1781 and 1787, the house was briefly a public house called The New Inn. This pub was the site of two murders. After the second murder, the house was let by Edward Austen Knight to a Bailiff Bridger Seward. (Wikipedia)

Edward then allowed his mother and sisters to move permanently into the residence. Jane lived there with her mother and sister, Cassandra, and long time family friend Martha Lloyd, from 1809 until May 1817, when she moved to Winchester to be near her physician before her death in June of that year. (Wikipedia

Through the window

View of Jane Austen’s writing desk from the cottage window. Image Tony Grant

Later in the 18th century, Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (who had been adopted by the Knights) succeeded, and in 1809 was able to move his mother and sisters to a cottage in the village. Jane would spend among the most contented, productive years of her life here.

 

trees

A glimpse of the cottage’s garden.

“I remember the garden well,” writes Miss Lefroy [a grand-daughter of the Rev. James Austen]. “A very high thick hedge divided it from the (Winchester) road, and road it was a pleasant shrubbery walk, with a rough bench or two where no doubt Mrs. Austen and Cassandra and Jane spent many a summer afternoon.”

Miss Lefroy recalls her mother’s happy memories with her Aunt Jane, Aunt Cassandra, and grandmother in Chawton.

“As may be supposed a great deal of intercourse was kept up between Steventon and Chawton. Our grandfather was a most attentive son, and one of the pleasures of my mother’s youth was sometimes riding with him to see her grandmother and aunts through the pretty cross roads and rough lanes, inaccessible to wheels, which lay between the two places . . . In her Aunt Jane, who was the object of her most enthusiastic admiration, she found a sympathy and a companionship which was the delight of her girlhood, and of which she always retained the most grateful remembrance . . . But I will copy my mother’s own account.

‘”The two years before my marriage and the three afterwards, during which we lived near Chawton, were the years in which my great intimacy with her was formed; when the original seventeen years between us seemed reduced to seven or none at all. It was my amusement during part of a summer visit to the cottage to procure novels from the circulating library at Alton, and after running them over to narrate and turn into ridicule their stories to Aunt Jane, much to her amusement, as she sat over some needlework which was nearly always for the poor. We both enjoyed the fun, as did Aunt Cassandra in her quiet way though, as one piece of nonsense led to another, she would exclaim at our folly, and beg us not to make her laugh so much.'” – Constance Hill, Jane Austen: her homes & her friends, 1902.

view from chawton cottage

View from Chawton Cottage in the early 19th century painted by Ellen Hill

 

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop fields and its graceful ‘hangers.'”

Chawton Cottage stands at the further end of the village, being the last house on the right-hand side of the way just where the Winchester road branches off from that to Gosport, and where a space of grass and a small pond lie in the fork of those roads.”

 

Chawton has a single church, St Nicholas. A church has stood on the site in Chawton since at least 1270 when it was mentioned in a diocesan document. The church suffered a disastrous fire in 1871 which destroyed all but the chancel. The rebuilt church was designed by Sir Arthuer Blomfield and is now listed Grade 2.” – (Wikipedia)

The two Cassandras

The Knight family is buried in the churchyard. Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried there also.

“The ‘Great House’ and the cottage lie within a few hundred yards of each other, the gates of the park opening upon the Gosport road. The house, a fine old Elizabethan mansion, with its Tudor porch, and its heavy mullioned windows, may be seen by the passer-by, standing on rising ground; while a little below it, in a gentle hollow, lies the old church of Chawton–a small grey stone edifice embowered in trees.”- Constance Hill

chawtoncottage_chawtonhouse

Chawton has only two road exits, one leading to a roundabout connected to the A31 and the A32, and the other to the A339/B3006 Selborne Road.

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop field and graceful “hangers”; while within easy reach is the cheerful little town of Alton.” – Hill

 

Selborne Rd

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Inquiring readers: Here’s another delightful contribution from the ever creative Tony Grant. If you can’t get enough of his work and photographs, visit his blog, London Calling, where he shares his images from his many trips all over Great Britain. A little over 200 hundred years ago (December, 2015), Emma was first published. This is the first of a number of articles related to that novel on this blog this year.

Emma, written by Jane Austen between 21st January 1814 and the 29th March 1815, is unique amongst her six published novels because it’s entire setting is one small country town, the fictitious Highbury and Hartfield, located in one county, Surrey. Other places, real and fictitious are mentioned and have roles in the story too but most of those, apart from London, are located in Surrey as well. All Austen’s other novels move between at least two major locations, Bath, London, Lyme Regis and so on. Her two unfinished novels, Sanditon and The Watsons also have one major location each, Sanditon, a fictitious seaside resort of the sort that were being developed in the Georgian period on the south coast and at other coastal places. In the case of The Watsons, it is another novel that starts in Surrey and specifically in and around, a real town this time, Dorking. The Turnpike Road and The White Hart Inn are real locations in and around Dorking. The Watsons was not developed beyond this setting.

The places mentioned in Emma that are real include Box Hill, the River Mole, Richmond, Kingston, Weymouth, Cobham and London of course. The fictitious places are Highbury and Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, Rosings and Maple Grove. Randalls, might refer to an actual house called Randalls near Leatherhead not far from Box Hill.

Many people think Leatherhead (images above) is the template for Highbury and Hartfield. However, if you ever have the time to travel around Surrey villages and towns, there are similarities between them all. A grand house and estate is often located outside the town. There are a variety of still existing Georgian town houses ranging from those that would have housed well to do middle class businessmen to cottages for the working man and his family. All towns have an ancient church, probably first built in the middle ages, along with a rectory.Many of the rectories, interestingly look Georgian in design, however many of them are much older, probably Tudor in construction, constructed with great oak beams, with Georgian fronts added. All towns have old inns and what were once assembly rooms.

For instance, Cobham is mentioned in Emma. In one scene with Mr Knightly, Emma extolls the virtues of Mr Weston,

“ … ever since his particular kindness last September twelve month in writing that note, at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlet fever at Cobham, I have been convinced that there could not be a more feeling heart nor a better man in existence.-“

Cobham is located not far from Leatherhead and Box Hill. I have walked around it often and the little bits of information about Highbury and Hartfield that Austen puts into the novel fit Cobham just as well as Leatherhead or a number of other towns and villages in Surrey. I think Highbury and Hartfield therefore is a sort of generic Surrey county town. It is after all the relationships between the characters that matter in the novel.

Jane Austen gives details describing the miles from Highbury and Hartfield to various places. It is 16 miles from London, 9 miles from Richmond and 7 miles from Box Hill. How more detailed could you be? These coordinates actually give you a spot on the Leatherhead to Kingston Road at a crossroads called, Malden Rushett. There are a couple of Victorian cottages there and nowadays a garden centre. It is mostly still surrounded by fields as it would have been in the early 19th century. The road comes from Dorking just south of Box Hill and passes through Leatherhead on its way to Kingston. It would, without doubt, have been the road that Mr Knightley and Mr Martin travelled along to get to the markets in Kingston. Also Frank Churchill / Weston, would have travelled this way to go to Richmond, which is further north of Kingston on the banks of the River Thames.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 9.57.40 AM

One can see the relation between Kingston Upon Thames and Richmond in this Google map image

Perhaps the mileage Austen gives us for the location of Highbury and Hartbury is all part of her play on words and riddles that permeate Emma. The mileage gives us the impression that this must be a real place that actually exists, although it doesn’t actually exist. Her choice of names real and fictional play games with us too. However, we can start to interpret the words and names she uses. For instance the derivation of, bury, used as a suffix to the name of a town comes from Old English. It means ,burh, or fortified place. A fortified place can be interpreted as defensive and insular. Then we have a “High,” protected place and,” Hart,” which could refer to the,” heart,” but also a hart is a sort of deer. Is Jane referring to the heart of Englishness, the heart of what it means to be a community? Although Emma might be seen as an insular novel, just centered on the people of a generic Surrey town, it also refers to all towns and all communities. We can think about our own social groups and work colleagues and neighbours. I would not be surprised if our immediate associations number a similar number as the community described within the scope of Emma. Jane Austen not only plays with the names of places but also her characters. George Knightly, for instance, might refer to George IV the monarch and the name Knightly to a chivalrous connection. King, country and nobility of the true Englishman was an important concept, especially at the time Jane was writing Emma. It was published in the year that Waterloo was fought and won. It is also interesting to note Franck Churchill asking how much it would take for him to become a “citizen,” of Highbury and Hartfield. This is an oblique reference to France and the enemy the French. He is subtly made into the enemy. There are enough real places referred to in the novel for any visitor to Surrey today to explore and walk the streets and fields Jane Austen herself walked. We know that in 1814, Jane Austen visited her relatives, the Cookes, at Great Bookham and probably visited Box Hill with them. Maybe she decided to place one her major scenes on the hill at that time.

Richmond (above) in the 18th and 19th century was a place for the well off and the aristocracy as it was in previous centuries and still is today. Nearby was located Kew Palace, where “mad” King George III lived with his family, and set amongst beautiful grounds planted with trees and shrubs brought from various corners of the British Empire. Richmond Green in the centre of Richmond is to this day surrounded by grand houses and a beautiful theatre that originates from Georgian times. Along the Thames near Richmond the river is lined by grand houses and the estates of the aristocracy going back to Stuart times. Frank Churchill and his adopted family are wealthy and this is the place for them.

When Frank Churchill at last arrives in Highbury he meets Emma for the first time.

“Their subjects in general were such as belong to an opening acquaintance. On his side were the enquiries, – “Was she a horse woman? -Pleasant rides? -Pleasant walks? -Had they a large neighbourhood? – Highbury perhaps afforded society enough?-There were several pretty houses in and about it-Balls-had they balls?-Was it a musical society?”

A person who knows Richmond well is aware of the almost cynical comparisons Frank Churchill is making. He appears to be polite but every reader would know then that Highbury could not compare with Richmond.

Kingston upon Thames (above) , further down river from Richmond and about two miles closer to the fictional Highbury than Richmond, was a very different sort of place. It had three markets, a large important cattle market, a central general market selling vegetables, meat, fish and selling general merchandise. There was also a small apple market. Kingston was important as a coaching inn stop. The Castle Inn was the largest and most prestigious inn overlooking the main market area. The inn itself no longer exists but the building occupying its site contains the original Castle Inn staircase constructed in 1537.

Kingston Market17th century staircase Jane probably walked up

Original Castle Inn staircase. Image @Tony Grant

It is a massive carved dark oak construction. Jane probably walked up its creaky steps and in her imagination, Mr Knightley and Mr Martin too. Kingston was the sort of place that Mr Martin and indeed Mr Knightly would visit regularly. The main central market still exists and there are buildings around it which originate from Georgian and much earlier times. The Druids Head pub is the only original 18th century coaching inn still in the market place. The shape and layout of the central market today would be recognized by both Jane Austen, who stopped in Kingston on her way to London often, and also her characters, Mr Martin and Mr Knightley. Austen writes an amusing scene in Emma, when Jane Fairfax is given the opportunity to play the pianoforte that was just delivered and Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and Emma were crammed into Miss Bates’s living room. This crammed indecorous scene creates a comical picture, when Mr Knightley rides past and Miss Bates rushes outside to also invite him in too. He is about to comply with the request, but when he learns about all the others already inside he says in a loud voice, so that everybody can hear

“…….No, not now, I thank you. I could not stay two minutes. I must get on to Kingston as fast as I can.”

It might be the thought of adding to the already crowded interior that put him off, or it might have been the desire to avoid certain people at that time.

Kingston was a frequent place Jane Austen travelled through or stopped at on her way to London from Chawton to stay with her brother Henry. She experienced its atmosphere, its sights and its sounds. In a letter to Cassandra from Henrietta Street, dated Wednesday 15-Thursday 16 September 1813, Jane Austen writes.

“ had a very good journey-Weather and roads excellent- the three first stages for 1s-6d and our only misadventure the being delayed about a quarter of an hour at Kingston for Horses, and being obliged to put up with a p belonging to a Hackney Coach and their coachman which left no room on the barouche box for Lizzy who was to have gone her last stage as she did the first:- consequently we were all 4 within, which was a little crowd;- We arrived at quarter past 4-…”

Leatherhead,is supposed, by some people, to be the template for Highbury and Hartbury. It certainly has some of the features mentioned in Emma but I think also other towns and villages in Surrey have similarities with Highbury and Hartbury too. Its proximity to Box Hill and also the Kingston Road from Dorking does lend it some credence. The part of Surrey in Emma is the Vale of Mickleham, the area between Leatherhead and Dorking, including Box Hill.

Jane Austen describes the view:

“The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

It was a sweet view – sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”

I have a theory, though. Cobham is mentioned in Emma in a rather unusual way. It is mentioned by Emma when praising,

“that excellent Mr Weston.”

Mr Weston had shown Emma his, “particular kindness last September twelvemonth in writing that note , at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlett fever at Cobham.”

There are some strange things about this. Why would he write the note so late at night? Was the note sent during the night? Why was it so important for Emma to know?

A few things occur to me. First, Emma is informed by Mr Weston that there is no scarlett fever at Cobham which means it is alright to go there. Is it alright for my flight of fancy to go there too? I am sure scarlet fever was not a good thing to catch in the 18th century. Jane’s first experience of Southampton, for example, when she was eight years of age attending Mrs Cawley’s school with Cassandra and her cousin Jane Cooper. The children caught an illness from troops landing in the town and Southampton had to be quarantined, so it must be a relief to the surrounding communities that Cobham is free of it but there is no other reference to anybody in the novel going to Cobham or wanting to go there. Its only addition to the story is that it shows Mr Martin’s rather obscure way of being marvellous. Why mention Cobham in this random way? Is this an aside, a joke with the reader, suggesting that Jane Austen used Cobham as the real template for Highbury and Hartfield? If you go to Cobham, which, incidentally, is only about two or three miles north west of Leatherhead and so not far from Boxhill, Kingston, and all the other places mentioned, it has many of the features of Highbury and Hatfield, including a grand manor and estate at Painshill, about one mile from the centre. The River Mole also runs nearby. It is a small village and much more compact than Leatherhead and would suit the closer community that Highbury and Hartfield seems to suggest rather than the larger town of Leatherhead. But that is just my surmise. Again, I must mention my previous observation that Highbury and Hartfield are really a sort of generic English town with features that you could find in most towns and villages in the 18th century. Quite often the same features are recognisable in many such places nowadays too.

The river mole at leatherhead

The River Mole at Leatherhead. Image @Tony Grant

Jane Austen’s knowledge and experience of Surrey is extensive. She would have known may places in Surrey well. Jane Austen visited Great Bookham in 1799 and 1814.  Great Bookham is about a mile south west of Leatherhead and not far from Box Hill. She went there to visit her mother’s relatives, the Reverend Samuel Cooke and his family. He was rector of Cotsford  in Oxfordshire and vicar of Great Bookham. He was married to Cassandra Leigh, Mrs George Austen’s cousin. The Reverend Cooke was Jane Austen’s godfather. It has been suggested that while she stayed at Great Bookham she visted Box Hill and thus got the idea for that important location in Emma.

the-town-of-dorking-below

Town of Dorking from Box Hill. Image @Tony Grant

In her letters to Cassandra, Jane relates many trips she takes from Steventon and later Chawton to London to visit Henry. The journeys she makes are invariably along roads and through places in Surrey. Some other places in Surrey that Jane mentions are Painshill, Epsom, Claremont Park, Dorking, Guildford, Farnham, and the Hogs Back Hill. Dorking is very interesting from the point of view of Janes writing. Her unfinished novel, The Watsons, takes place almost entirely in Dorking. As it does not really feature in Emma I will not elaborate on it.

Jane Austen almost creates an intellectual game in Emma. The names of places suggest other meanings. Donwell, for instance. Does it suggest that Mr Knightley, who has a very patriotic name and suggests a chivalrous and ”knightly” character, has “DONE WELL,”? A very corny joke. Even her first readers in the early 19th century would have groaned at that, I am sure. She mixes real and imaginary places in her setting making all places sound convincing. She gives concrete directions to a place that does not exist, namely Highbury and Hartbury. She apparently relates the story of a small close community in a way that seems specific to them but is really universal in its descriptions of types of people and their interactions. Jane Austen sets up all these dichotomies. She really is playing with our minds in many ways and on different levels.

Sources:

 

 

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Inquiring readers, It’s time to lay Downton Abbey reviews aside and return to Jane Austen, since that is where my passion lies. Tony Grant, London Calling, has been a contributor to this blog for many years. He has written a piece that is quite original – how would Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie sound if the two characters spoke in the Hampshire accent that Jane Austen, who lived in Chawton, would have known well?

I think you will find this post as interesting as I did. Enjoy!

One of the things that you see time and time again, is that when she reaches a point where the characters are in conversation, her hand runs smoothly – often without a pause, often without a mistake, often without a slip or correction. In other passages where she’s setting up a scene or introducing a new character and having to describe him with some detail – before he actually becomes animated by conversation – those are the passages she struggles with. But she does come through in the manuscripts as essentially and most confidently a conversational novelist.” – Katheryn Sutherland, speaking about Austen’s original manuscripts at the British Library.

In the following interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, Sutherland discusses the manuscripts, now compiled in a digital archive.

Prof. SUTHERLAND: There are very few authors that we put in this extraordinary position where we feel that we should never say anything critical about them. She can stand up to it. She’s interesting. She’s experimental. She’s an extraordinary writer. The idea that we can never question what she wrote I think is absolute nonsense.

KELLY: Professor Sutherland, so how different do these handwritten pages look from the finished books that we know?

Prof. SUTHERLAND: Well, they look very different, obviously, in that they are filled with blots, crossings out into linear insertions. When you look deeper you perhaps find something you wouldn’t expect, which is a different punctuation style.

KELLY: A different punctuation style. How – what do you mean?

Prof. SUTHERLAND: Well, it seems to mean that what she is doing is punctuating for speech. The English that she is known for is this polished, printed Johnsonian prose. And it’s not there in the manuscript.

kathryn sutherland

Katherine Sutherland

The controversy that Katheryn Sutherland stirred up when she published her ideas about Jane Austen’s writing style, is very telling. It highlighted, in the many shocked responses, the unthinking, emotionally charged fan worship that surrounds Austen. Sutherlands measured, researched views should have been a reality check, a cold shower cooling the heated, emotional, overwrought world of modern day Janites stoked to a white heat by the many branches of various Jane Austen Societies around the world. The now numerous films and TV adaptations and especially the wet shirt scene and also, in addition, the spin off genre epitomized recently in the film,” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” keep this unhealthy adoration at fever pitch.

Thinking about Sutherlands comments relating to Jane Austen’s use of the comma, her lack of paragraphing and her speech being her strong point, I thought it would be interesting to take it a stage further and write a piece from one of her novels using Hampshire phrases and colloquialisms and also being creative with punctuation and paragraphing as Sutherland says Austen’s original manuscripts demonstrate. Also her original manuscripts had, and you can see this in any publication of Sandition or The Watsons, a prolific use of abbreviations and ampersands.

I am Hampshire born and bred and up until the age of 23 lived in Southampton. I have often visited places like Winchester, Salisbury and villages such as Bishops Waltham and Botley and throughout my life, heard the Hampshire dialect spoken. My families neighbours in Southampton all spoke with pronounced Hampshire accents and used phrases and words that were peculiar to Hampshire.

It is a warm, gentle sort of accent with a soft burr to it. The letter S is often pronounced as Z. The letter H is often missed off when pronouncing a word and the G at the end of the suffix ing is missed. Words like, you, become, yer and, he, becomes ee, was is wuz, man, is , bloke, I ,is ,oy, and if you want to insult somebody you call them, mush. Vowels are flattened. The Hampshire way of speaking can easily be understood by outsiders, however. It is clearly spoken and the differences from accepted pronunciation are not great. You could not mistake somebody speaking with a Hampshire accent and using Hampshire colloquialisms, as coming from anywhere else but Hampshire.

In the following rewriting of the first proposal of his love to Elizabeth, I have tried to interpret what Darcy and Elizabeth say using Hampshire colloquialisms. I must admit I have not just kept to a Hampshire way of speaking. I have not enough expertise to do that. What follows is probably a mixture of various English dialetcs and mannerisms. But it was fun to do. I hope you can enjoy it. If you are challenged as far as an English accent, particularly a colloquial accent goes, make your sounds flat. Widen your mouth as you speak. You are not trying to create a ,”plummy,” upper class accent but the flat vowels of a regional accent.  Good luck.

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Here is Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, being surprised by an unexpected visitor and a very unexpected proposal:

….she was suddenly roused by the sound of the doorbell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of it being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to enquire particularly after her.

“ Oo cud that be now?”

But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were differently affected, when, to her utter amazement, she saw Mr Darcy walk into the room. In an unhurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health,

“Owz you be me dear?”

imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility.

“Oyz orright. Thank ee fer azzkin.”

He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began,

“Ize a bin struggling wi meslf Lizzie. It won’t do nay more. Me feelins will not be squarshed unner no dead rabbit nay mar. Yee mussle allowz me t’ tell yee ‘ow, wi some power’ul emotion me admires and loves ee.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression.

“Ahhh eeee !!!”

She stared, coloured, doubted and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement, and the avowal of all that he felt and had long felt for her, immediately followed.

He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride.

“Me pride makes eet hard Liz to tell ee these ere things but I knows how low down ee must feel agin me and me family. It’ll tak summit for ‘em all to coom roun’ to this ere idea Liz. It is nay degradation Lizzie to yee and yer mum and yer dad and yer sisterz.”

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience.

“Ize dun know what ter say? But yooz jus insulterd me family and all a uz!”

He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand.

“Ize a cannot help meself Lizzie. Ize a feelin anxious like. Ize a feeling appre’ennersive like. Marry me ! I got these ere feelins see girl.”

As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she said,

“In sich as this, it is ‘stablished thing t’express a sense a obligati’n fer the sen’imen’s avowed, ‘owever unequalz they be. It’s nat’ral that obligati’n should be felt, and if ay could feel grat’tude, I’d now thank ee. But ay can’t – I’ve ne’r wannered yer good thoughts like, and yee’ve cert’nly bin unwillin’ aven’t ee . I’ze sorry if ay cause ee some ‘art ache. I aint ment it like, ‘ Ize ope ee gets overit quick like. The feelin’s which, yee tell I, ‘ave long stopped ee, yee can ‘ave no difficulty overcoming em after what yee have sed like.”

Mr Darcy, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth’s feelings dreadful…

References:

 

I found more information about British dialects online (Vic):

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The English Language in Hampshire: The English Project. http://www.englishproject.org/resources/english-language-hampshire

Jane Austen’s English: http://dialectblog.com/2013/03/23/jane-austens-english/. Unfortunately, there was no audio portion to the descriptions of the broad “a” in this article.

British Library: Survey of British Accents. This short audio sample was recorded in 1958. The speaker was born in 1898 and lived in Hatherden, Hampshire – http://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/Survey-of-English-dialects/021M-C0908X0031XX-0400V1

A Linguist Explains What Old-School British Accents Sounded Like: The Toast http://the-toast.net/2014/03/19/a-linguist-explains-british-accents-of-yore/. This article includes a 10-minute video on how Shakespearean English sounded as compared to the British dialect today. Fascinating.

A Linguist Explains What Old-School British Accents Sounded Like: All Things Linguistic
http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/80067476348/a-linguist-explains-what-old-school-british. A bit more on the topic by the same author.

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Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

More on the topic:

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Inquiring readers, Tony Grant from London Calling has contributed yet another wonderful article. Inspired by my visit to Williamsburg a few weeks ago, he decided to research some of the buildings in more depth.

The Sir Christopher Wren building at the William and Mary College in Virginia is the oldest academic building in the United States. It was built between 1695 and 1700. However its origins began long before that and a long and tortuous path was followed before the construction of the college could be  begun.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

In 1618 The Virginia Company of London ordered the construction of a university at Henrico, a few miles south of the present day city of Richmond. By 1619 Sir Edwyn Sandys the treasurer of The Virginia Company reported that £1,500 had been collected and also that every bishop in England had been asked to collect money from their parishioners for the construction of the university. In July 1619, workmen were sent  from England to construct the university. In 1622 an Indian uprising destroyed Henrico. In 1624 Virginia became a Royal Colony and the licence of The Virginia Company was revoked. This removed the charter allowing the building of the university. In 1661 The General Assembly authorised the purchase of land for the building of a college. Nothing happened until 1690 when the Church of England clergy in Virginia put forward propositions for the construction of a college. The reverend James Blair was sent to England in 1691 to petition the new King and Queen, Willam and Mary, to grant a charter to establish a college. The King provided £1,985 14s 10d for the construction of a college to be named William and Mary. There was also a 1d tax placed on all tobacco sold to other countries apart from Britain to raise money. In 1693 a tract of land was purchased for £170 from Captain Thomas Ballard. In May 1694 The Royal College of Arms, which is situated beside St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, created a coat of arms for the college. In 1695 the first bricks were laid of the foundation of the college.

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren

This original building of the college is thought to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. There is no documentary evidence to prove this but there are some arguments in favour of Wren being the architect. Wren was the King’s chief architect and William and Mary authorised the construction of the college. The Church of England used Wren as their chief architect in London and it was the Church of England ministers in Virginia who instigated the building of the college. Wren was also responsible for many other important buildings throughout Britain. Wren was the architect who virtually rebuilt London after the Great Fire in 1666.

Detail of a Wren window

Detail of a Wren window

Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist and mathematician and became one of England’s most famous architects. He was responsible for designing and building over fifty London churches and he was the builder of St Paul’s cathedral in the city. He was born on October 20th 1632 in East Knoyle, a village in Wiltshire in Southern England. His father was the local rector. His father later moved to Windsor and Christopher went to Westminster School, situated next to Westminster Abbey and then went on to Oxford University. He had a talent for mathematics and also inventing things. In 1657 Wren was appointed as the professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London and four years later he became the professor of astronomy at Oxford.

he Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for William and Mary College was created. Image @Tony Grant

The Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for the College of William and Mary was created. Image @Tony Grant

In 1662 he was one of the founding members of The Royal Society along with other great mathematicians and scientists. From his interest in physics and mathematics he developed an interest in architecture. In 1664 and 1665 he was commissioned to build the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and also the chapel of Pembroke College Cambridge. Architecture then became his main interest. He visited Paris and became interested in the baroque style. In 1666 The Great Fire of London destroyed much of the old city. This provided a great opportunity for Wren. He drew up designs for a grand new city. However, many of his ideas did not come to fruition because the owners of different parcels of land, in the city, did not want to sell. Wren was able, though, to design fifty-one churches and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons

Returning to the possibility of Wren designing the William and Mary College in Virginia, it is interesting to compare Wren’s known buildings with the college to see what similarities in style there might be. I referred to the efforts to raise the finances to build the college and maybe there was a difficulty here. When you compare what Wren built here in England with William and Mary College there are many discrepancies. William and Mary College looks to be a very downmarket version of Wren’s classic buildings.

Wren Building. @William & Mary's website. Click on image to see the source.

Wren Building. @William & Mary’s website. Click on image to see the source.

There are some similarities in design and proportion though. Whoever did design William and Mary College could at least have had Wren as an inspiration. Wren worked closely with designers such as Grindling Gibbons, the wood carver and John Groves, the plasterer.

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

They both created the most ornate ceilings, wood panelling and facia stone carvings on Wrens buildings. These people were the most prominent and influential designers of their day. They would have charged a premium price for their talents and skills.From the pictures of William and Mary College these features are not present.

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

William and Mary, who the college is named after, provide an insight into the turbulent history after the even more turbulent times of the English Civil War.

William Henry Stuart was born on November 14th 1650 in the Hague in the Netherlands. He was the son of William II of Orange. In 1672 William was appointed Stadholder(chief magistrate)and captain general of the Dutch forces  to resist a French invasion of the Netherlands. In 1677 he married his cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York who became James II of England. It was a diplomatic and politically inspired marriage intending to repair the rift between England and the Netherlands after the Anglo Dutch Wars. James II was a very unpopular monarch, not least because he was a catholic. The English Parliament tried to oppose James and wanted to reduce his powers. They secretly invited William and Mary to come to England and rule as joint monarchs. William landed at Torbay on 5th November 1688, a very nice Devon coastal resort these days, with an army of 14,000 troops. With local support this increased to 20,000 men. They advanced on London. This was called the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France and William and Mary were crowned as William III and Mary II. Parliament then passed the Bill of Rights which prevented a catholic taking the throne again and parliament also limited the powers of the monarch.

William and Mary

William and Mary

William and Mary did not like each other. William had a dour personality. He was asthmatic, twelve years older and several inches shorter than Mary and he was a homosexual by nature.

Sir Christopher Wren's addition to Hampton Court

Christopher Wren facade

If ever you visit Hampton Court you can walk around the 17th century part of the palace behind the old Tudor part which was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren as a present for William and Mary. It was  also intended as an enticement to bring William to England as our monarch. William and Mary liked Hampton Court and spent a lot of time there.

Visitors today can process through all the rooms of state. A palace was designed to a specific plan. The first rooms you enter were waiting rooms. Ambassadors from other countries would wait until ushered into the next set of rooms to have an audience with the King. Rooms following on from that would be for the Kings own ministers. Following on to the next set of rooms, the greatest of the aristocracy and personal friends of the King would be admitted. As you process through the rooms further only the monarchs most intimate friends, advisors and family would be permitted.

Baroque interior of the King's apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Baroque interior of the King’s apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Finally you reach the Kings own personal rooms and, lastly, after all the grand state rooms, a small bedroom, lavishly decorated but very small, almost a closet, the kings own sleeping chamber. It is interesting to note that the room above the king’s bedroom was the room of his own personal manservant who was the only one who had access to the King in the night. His manservant could enter by way of a narrow staircase, which apparently, he often did. We can only surmise!

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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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Gentle readers, in celebration of Pride and Prejudice’s 200 year anniversary, Jane Austen’s World will feature a regular article about Jane Austen’s most popular novel throughout 2013. We can count on frequent contributor Tony Grant from London Calling to provide us with a unique perspective. Enjoy!

All good films have a car chase. Some originate from well written, exciting, nail-biting, on the edge of your seats, breathless descriptions in a novel.

Steve McQueen in mustang

Steve McQueen in mustang

Let it not be said Pride and Prejudice doesn’t have it’s nail biter, it’s moment of burning rubber and screeching tyres that is right up there with Steve McQueen ripping up the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, hurling his Ford Mustang over the lips of hills and down daredevil slopes with a street fighters aggression or Michael Caine escaping the Italian police with wheels spitting gravel and door smashing bravado in his supercharged mini cooper GT along the Corniche, “not many people know that,” or John Thaw in The Sweeney, as gritty streetwise cop Jack Regan thundering through the Isle of Dogs in his 3 litre V6 Ford Consul GT. Mr Bennett has his contenders, but not, may I dare say, his equals, oh no.

Elizabeth Bennett, who is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, the Gardeners has received a letter from her sister Jane

Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you — be assured that we are all well. What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham!”

Image of eloping couple. 1815

Image of eloping couple. 1815

This piece of information about Lydia sets in motion, literally, a series of coach journeys and desperate searchings that rivals anything Steve McQueen or Michael Caine partook of.

Michael Caine: Nuts to your watches! You just be at the Piazza at a quarter to..
Steve McQueen: Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.
Det. Insp. Jack Regan: Remember, no guns unless they use ’em.

Mr Gardner and Mr Bennett walking the streets of London, searching for Wickham and Lydia could well have used lines like those. What needs to be said, what needs to be done, never changes whatever century, don’t you think?

“…and all three being actuated by one spirit, every thing relating to their journey was speedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible.”

Coach travel

Coach travel

And so Mr and Mrs Gardner and Lizzie Bennett sped south to Longbourn at the hair-raising speed of 10 miles per hour or more, on the occasion of increased velocity being achieved when long flat straight roads presented themselves; jolted and tossed about, no doubt, like three potatoes in a sack.

But Lydia and Wickham were as devious and cunning as any mafia on the streets of Naples, or ruthless bank robbers from the East End of London or murderous killers off the dangerous streets of San Francisco. Gretna Green was, dare I say, a red herring. They spread rumours, gasp, horror; they planned and they plotted, they predicted and they saw clearly with their crazed, devious minds thinking out brilliantly, their next move. They lived the heady adrenalin pumped life of criminals on the run.

Mr Bennett “… did trace them easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place they removed into a Hackney coach and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.”

Oh gosh and golly, what subterfuge, what dastardly cunning. They actually changed from a chaise to a hackney coach.The evil mind games of those criminals. But they were hunted, yes, hunted, by Mr Bennett, he, a wily, ruthless backwoodsman who once he smelled the scent of his prey cannot, will not, be put off his quest. Mrs Bennett was right to be desperate in her concerns,

And now here’s Mr Bennett gone away and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?”.

Popeye Doyle himself could not compete with Mr Bennett surely in his ruthless endeavour

 The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him.”

But our Mr Bennett in his utter, focused, desperate determination can but say,

“Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

Good gracious, the man is a titan of hot-blooded aggression. Surely nothing can prevail? Wickham has met his match.

epsom

Epsom Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale’s England & Wales
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

Elizabeth was desperate to know what lengths, what depths her father would go to retrieve his wayward daughter, her very own sister.

He meant, I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if anything could be made out from them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them from Clapham. “

Of course, a touch of sheer genius; find out the number of the Hackney Coach. That would do it. He would be sure to find them then.
And after all this searching, this animal desperation, this wolf like howl of anguish ripped from the primeval instinctive depths of Mr Bennett’s heart, what then? What could be the consequences? So after many letters flying backwards and forwards, if anything, P&P appears to hinge very often on the writing, sending and receiving of letters, Mr Gardner has appeared to pay Wickhams debts,, Mr Bennet has only to provide a paltry £100 a year, he can’t believ his luck and can’t quite work out the finances as if he ever could work out his finances. (Aside: we all know who really has settled the finances, don’t we?? Ha! Ha! It’s getting more like a pantomime all the time this. Mrs Bennnet as Widow Twanky and Mr Bennet as Baron Hardup.)

He had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser, by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expenses had been very little within that sum.

That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.”

Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet

So Wickham was to marry Lydia and Mrs Bennett was happy and all was well with Mr Bennett and he could return to his former state of,” indolence.” A sort of Popeye Doyle with carpet slippers smoking a pipe and reading his newspaper seated at his fireside; a Michael Caine reminiscing about his past, cold eyed and tough emotionless roles in Get Carter relaxing now in his easy chair or Steve McQueen sitting back on his ranch, his rocking chair gently calming his fevered brain and letting his motorbikes go rusty, crying into his beer, or, even a Jack Regan from The Sweeney who could at last ,” Shut it!” himself. Ah, all was well in the end. Colonel Forster could return too to Brighton, to the lesser dangers of defending our shores and leading his regiment against Napoleon knocking at the very shingle on Brighton Beach. Mr and Mrs Gardner could return to the hustle and bustle and shops and markets of Gracechurch Street in the city and Lizzie and Jane, yes, well, we know what becomes of Lizzie and Jane,

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs Bingley and talked of Mrs Darcy may be guessed.”

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham not so

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham apparently not so

So, in a novel dedicated to getting daughters married, a lot of horse and carriage mileage is accrued and many letters are written. We only hear of weddings, but we certainly know about how characters felt. Will, Lady Catherine ever get over being, “exceedingly angry” or will she just explode with high blood pressure?

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Inquiring readers: Tony Grant from London Calling has been a frequent contributor to this blog, sending posts and images. He lives in Wimbledon and acts as a tour guide, taking visitors on tours to Jane Austen country, the Lakes region, and points of interest all around London and the U.K. Recently, Tony sent in his thoughts about Jane Austen and his wish to delve deeper into other authors and their lives. As an active guide, he knows whereof he speaks. I asked Susannah Fullerton, author, president of JASA, and also a tour guide, to give her response (with Tony’s approval).  Here, then, is their very interesting conversation. I intend to weigh in. Does anyone else have an opinion? If so, please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, to all my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! Drive safely and have a wonderful time with kith and kin.

“Good-Bye to All That,” is an autobiography by Robert Graves. Graves said, “It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.

I was reading a poem by Edward Thomas, (Philip Edward Thomas, 3rd March 1878 – 9th April 1917) recently, entitled, “The Brook.” In the poem Thomas is sitting by a stream and watching a child paddling in the brook. His senses are completely alert to the sights and sounds of insects, the sight of birds and the sounds of birds unseen, the play of sunlight, the rippling tinkling sounds of water and the memories of a past horseman and horse buried under a barrow on the heath nearby. The poem ends,

And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before,” is what she said.

It occurred to me that the child was right. Of course, probably, many people had been to that spot over years and decades. For each of us, however, when we go to a place for the first time that is pristine and natural and remains how it has always been we do experience something for the first time. It is as if nobody has been there or done that, or experienced that before us. We can experience things fresh and new for ourselves when we go somewhere like this, for the first time.

Signpost. Image @Tony Grant

Now lets take a visit to Chawton, Jane Austen’s last home before she died. I wonder if we can actually experience things fresh and new to us on a visit to Chawton and say,“No one’s been here before,” in the way the child in Edward Thomas’s poem did?

I remember standing at the crossroads in Chawton , years ago, for the first time. What I should have experienced, according to Jane Austen pilgrims to Chawton, is a sense of where she lived, a connection with Jane Austen – where she wrote, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, enjoyed the company of Cassandra, Martha, her mother and brothers and neighbours too. Indeed, Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) did all this over two hundred years ago. But can I or any of us get that feeling of, “No one’s been here before.” Do we really get an experience standing at Chawton crossroads next to that much photographed sign post put up in the 1930’s with pointers to the great house, the church and the cottage that it is the Chawton of Jane Austen? Do we really believe that we have a connection with Austen by being there? Isn’t it all in our imaginations because we want to believe?

Chawton Village street. Image @Tony Grant

Chawton high street is full of parked cars with Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Scandinavian makers emblems on them. The road is metalled and covered in tarmac. It has a pavement edged by slate and granite curb stones from Dartmoor. It has concrete and tarmac pavements. Houses surrounding the cottage have a mesh of telecommunication wires leading to each one. People who live in Chawton are all connected to the World Wide Web with broadband like the rest of us. Modern street lights light the streets at night. In the small park opposite the cottage there is a children’s playground with steal clambering structures and swings. The pub opposite, The Greyfriar, is a Fullers pub. They hold a quiz night once a week for locals that probably doesn’t include questions about Jane Austen. Fullers, by the way, is a London brewery situated on the Great West Road, leading out towards Heathrow Airport, close to where Hogarth had his country retreat. These very locals travel to Winchester, Southampton or even commute to London for work every day. Chawton C of E Primary School, just along the road, on the way to The Great House, is an ordinary primary school that teaches the national curriculum. The children are like children anywhere and this is where they live. The Jane Austen connection to them is by the by, not really pertinent to their lives. Although, I am sure, as the school is in Chawton the children will know a lot about Jane Austen, but she will really be just somebody else on their list of famous people and writers to know about. Those children play computer games on their Ipads at home. Chawton is an ordinary place where people live and get on with their ordinary lives, where Jane doesn’t loom much in their minds when they are peeling the potatoes or hoovering their carpets or watching the TV.

Chawton Cottage signs. Image @Tony Grant

Looking at the cottage from the outside, the Jane Austen societies have stuck large obtrusive signs on the walls facing the road. If you look at the structure of the building itself you begin to wonder what of it Jane would actually recognise if she were to come back today. Windows have obviously been bricked up. Was that a result of 18th century window taxes or because at one time the cottage was split into a group of smaller cottages? It has a variety of doors to enter by too which probably weren’t there or were in different locations in Jane’s day.

Staircase. Image @Tony Grant

When you go into the cottage you see modern radiators, electrical wiring, plug sockets and fire exit signs with the requisite fire extinguisher points. These are not subtly hidden or unobtrusive but are very prominent. Many of the display cases, especially upstairs, are bulky and obtrusive. They don’t look good. The staircase itself is not the staircase Jane Austen would have known in her time. The whole house has actually been restructured. The Austen’s might not recognise the place. It’s not really the place they knew.

The visitor’s entrance to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

I always come back to the books and her letters. That is where to find Jane Austen. That is where we are going to get glimpses of the real person if we are attentive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reading Jane’s novels, her letters and the biographies written about her. However all these Jane Austen societies bother me. They worship and idolise her. They focus exclusively on her. They wring every bit of Janenness out of her. They make Chawton a false holy of holies. She was one writer for goodness sake. The world is a diverse and varied place full of great writers that we all need to read and not be partisan about. If I had my way I would get rid of all literary societies connected with all writers and say, just read. Reading develops us and helps us grow. Centering on one writer narrows us.

Penguin Classics

As a paraphrase of Robert Graves, this article “ (Is) my(not so) bitter leave-taking of (Austen) where I (have) recently broken a good many conventions”. We all need to stop squeezing the life out of Jane Austen and get on with real life and the rest of the real literary world. Returning to the essence of the Edward Thomas poem, I feel that my senses need to be open but to other writers without the weighty manufactured image of Jane Austen hovering over my shoulder.

Doesn’t anybody else feel that they would like to get out from underneath the weight of Austen and breath freely again?

Tony Grant

I am going to read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels after Christmas and post reviews. My mate Clive and I are going to do this in tandem. If you want an antidote to all things Jane, don’t stray!!!!!!! Clive and Tone are on their way.

Tony Grant, Wimbledon

Hi Tony,

I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your comments on Vic’s lovely website. Your photo of the Dolphin Hotel looks so nice in my new book, A Dance with Jane Austen. Thanks again for giving me permission to use it when we met.

I’m intrigued by your comments about Jane Austen societies, but don’t agree with you that they are in any way narrowing. My experience is quite the opposite. At JASA we’ve had talks on Jane Austen’s connections with / influence on many other writers – Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Byron, Radcliffe, the Brontes, etc. Such talks immediately send you hurrying off to get to know more about those other writers. We’ve had talks about Jane Austen and various historical figures, so you then want to learn more about them, and of course we’ve had talks and articles about the age in which she lived, so our members then explore music in her time, art and what paintings she knew, they learn about the church in that era, the navy and army, Georgian crime, fashion, food, travel, and the list goes on. I see JASA (and the other literary societies to which I belong) as a wonderful way of extending my reading and my knowledge, not limiting it.

And joining good literary societies is addictive. If you get great pleasure from learning more about one writer, you soon realise that you can do the same with another writer. It does not have to be exclusive – I’m extremely promiscuous indeed when it comes to joining literary groups! I’m part of an Anthony Trollope group (we have trouble knowing what to call our group – ‘The Trollopes’ has dubious connotations – I’d love to hear suggestions??) and we have been making our way through Trollope’s more than 40 novels with enormous pleasure. (Trollope, by the way, was a great admirer of Jane Austen). We have also read biographies of Trollope, biographies of his mother Frances, critical books about his writings, and books about the position of women in Victorian England. It’s a small group but we have all felt so enriched by it. Plus we have great fun, good food and wine, picnics (in places Trollope visited in Australia) and we have all made new friends.

And lastly a fabulous reason to join a literary society is for the social aspects. I have met some of my dearest friends through JASA and other Jane Austen connections. I can honestly say that joining JASA has totally changed my life – and all for the better – so there’s been nothing ‘narrowing’ about my passion for Jane Austen’s novels. Rather than ‘squeezing the life’ out of Jane Austen, my love of her writings has widened my knowledge, increased my appreciation of her books, life and historical era, has taken me around the world, given me new friends and given me intense happiness. The more I turn to her novels, the more I get from them; and the same goes for JASA – Jane Austen keeps giving and giving and I receive so very happily all she has to give in so many ways.

Am I waxing too lyrical??? I think you need to pay a visit to Australia, Tony, so that I can show you in person all you could get from a great literary society. Please come and visit any time!!!! JASA would love to welcome you to sunny Sydney.

Cheers,
Susannah

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