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By Brenda S. Cox

We got to enjoy “Jane Austen in the Arts” at the 2021 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM). Over 500 participants gathered in Chicago last weekend to learn, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun!

The crowd was smaller than usual, and covid precautions were taken. Europeans weren’t able to come, though we had a few brave Canadians join us. It was a delight to be back together in person. Most regional JASNA groups are only now re-starting in-person meetings after many months of gathering only on Zoom. (If you didn’t know about JASNA, check it out; you will likely find a group near you.)

The Jane Austen Society of North America recently held their Annual General Meeting in Chicago.

So what does Austen have to do with the arts, you might wonder? We learned both about the arts during Austen’s time, and artistic adaptations of Austen today. Here are some of the topics we discussed.

Plenary Sessions

  • Gillian Dow told us about theatre and Austen’s dialogue.
  • Devoney Looser compared Jane and Cassandra’s inspiring one another through writing and art with Jane and Anna Maria Porter, sister-novelists writing at the same time.
  • Desmond Shawe-Taylor explained the Prince Regent’s enjoyment of art, especially the Dutch and Flemish painters popular at the time.
  • Maestro Stephen Alltop and Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg gave us a concert of some of Jane Austen’s favorite music. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was their hilarious interpretation of “The Battle of Prague,” with Josefien’s farcical dramatization: shooting, riding an imaginary horse, “suffering” from wounds, and ducking cannonballs. (And, Maestro Alltop introduced the piece with a wonderful reading from Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad about it, which started us laughing and we didn’t really stop!)

Special Interests

Participants chose from a rich palette of special interest sessions and breakout sessions, addressing all of these arts:

  • Music of the time, and the music used in Austen movies
  • Fashion
  • Painting
  • Sketching
  • Drama
  • Elocution
  • Dance
  • Embroidery
  • Costume Design
  • Graphic Novels and Comics
  • Cooking
  • Art Appreciation
  • Collecting Art
  • Adaptations of Austen
  • Satirical Cartoons
  • And even making videos for Tik Tok!
Joy Refuerzo Provost shows the silhouette she cut of the Prince Regent. Cassidy J. Alexander, standing next to her, is a professional silhouette artist and historian who taught the workshop at the AGM.

Tours and Workshops

For those who came a day early or stayed late, tours were offered of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Chicago movies, and more. Workshops, organized by Lori Mulligan Davis, let participants try their hands (and feet) at:

  • Calligraphy
  • Making Feather Headpieces
  • Watercolors
  • Silhouettes, and of course
  • English Country Dance

Entertainment

Besides all these fascinating learning opportunities, I loved the two main events.

  • Chicago’s Ghostlight Ensemble performed a captivating reading of A. A. Milne’s play, Miss Elizabeth Bennet: A Play from Pride and Prejudice. Bennet stole the show, with many hilarious lines. The play more or less followed the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but with some fun new twists thrown in.
  • And of course, the Ball, following a banquet. So fun to be back dancing again, even with masks on! Callers Tom and Toni Tumbusch led the four long lines of dancers through two easy dances, to get the newbies comfortable, then brought us through the complex dance from the 1995 movie of Pride and Prejudice. This was loosely based on the dance “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot”—maggot meant a favorite, not a worm! The caller explained that choreographers totally revised that dance so that it would look good on film and give Darcy plenty of chances to give Elizabeth “smoldering” looks! The changes did make it harder to dance, but we did it. And the last dance was the slower Duke of Kent’s Waltz. It didn’t actually include waltzing, though it was in ¾ time.
  • Those who didn’t want to dance could play whist or join a trivia tournament.
Renata Dennis, chair of the Diversity (JEDI) Committee, and Brenda S. Cox, dressed for the banquet and ball at the AGM.

Diversity

JASNA has been making great efforts to make Austen more accessible to a wide variety of people, including younger audiences and audiences from various backgrounds. The JASNA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (fondly called the JEDI Committee) includes nine committed Janeites from a variety of backgrounds. I asked the JEDI chair, Renata Dennis, what she saw as the highlights of this AGM.

Renata sends kudos to the amazing AGM organizers, Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, for making a point of including topics related to Jane Austen and diversity.

Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, organizers of the 2021 AGM

Some examples Renata appreciated:

  • Johann S. Buis and Lisa Brown shared about musicians of color including George Polgreen Bridgetower, Ignatius Sancho and others, with samples of their work.
  • Georgie Castilla, an artist from Mexico, gave a fascinating presentation on Austen adaptations in comics, manga, and graphic novels. I was surprised to learn that while comic adaptations of other classics have been around for a long time, the first Austen comics appeared only recently. Georgie also pointed out that in cartoon adaptations, the characters can easily be shown as from diverse backgrounds. I bought one of his t-shirts, which proclaims “Austen is For Everyone,” and shows a variety of people in Regency clothes. 
  • Lena Ruth Yasutake talked about ways to introduce “new, younger, and more diverse audiences” to Austen through drama, education, and costume.
  • Devoney Looser talked about Charles Austen’s connections to suppressing slavery. She encouraged us to not fear addressing difficult topics of the Austens’ connections to slavery. The issues are complex, with many gray areas, but well-worth exploring in depth.

A recent issue of Persuasions On-Line also focuses on Jane Austen and Diversity.

Dancing at the Ball. Georgie Castilla and Sheila Hwang, members of the JEDI Committee.

Shopping

What else? Of course we also got to shop! Jane Austen Books offered their usual incredible selection of books, magazines, and other goodies, including a book signing with authors who spoke at the AGM. Other vendors sold clothing, accessories, socks, the Wisconsin region’s lovely Austen calendars, and other fun stuff.

This image by Georgie Castilla premiered at the AGM, featured on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and tote bags. Items are available from Cassandra’s Closet.

Want to join in?

JASNA will be offering recordings of many of the sessions for those who didn’t make it to the AGM, for a fee. (My own talk on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” will be included.) I suspect that, like the AGM, the recordings will just be available to JASNA members, but I encourage you to join. The organization provides wonderful resources as well as great friends to network with.

And, you might want to start saving up for the next AGM, which will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2022 in Victoria, BC, Canada. I hear it’s a gorgeous place. The theme is “Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens.” I’m looking forward to it!

SPECIAL NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO JOIN JASNA, DO IT THIS WEEK! FEES WILL INCREASE ON NOVEMBER 1. INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIPS, NOW $30 PER YEAR, WILL INCREASE TO $45 PER YEAR ON NOV. 1.

 

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen

Inquiring readers: In early October, Prof Elaine Chalus, Historian of 18-19C British gender, politics & society, sent a link to eight sessions of the Bath 250, A Virtual Conference, The 250th Anniversary of the New Assembly Rooms of Bath, given on 29t & 30th September 2021. I have listened to only a few of the presentations and hope to listen to many more before the two weeks are over. The presentation that resonated the most with me so far was of  Stephen Pool’s discussion of the sedan chairmen. I hope my synopsis accurately summarizes his main points.

____________________

After the French Revolution that promoted new ideas about equality, Bath sedan chairmen signed a declaration of fidelity to the King of England and the Constitution. They numbered 326. Interestingly, as a group the general public considered them to be rude and their language offensive, making their support of the King all the more interesting. In their defense, Steve Pool states:

“They worked in all weather. The worse the weather, the more likely they were to be called upon, from morning to night. In standing rain, the chairs became wet, inside and out”

Often, when the weather became intolerable (wind, snow, rain), many chairmen were nowhere to be found, and customers who sought their services were forced to walk towards their destinations through the elements.

Sedan chairmen’s manners were considered by many customers to be insolent in public situations. The fashionable crowd often  considered them rude and grating. Cartoonists especially loved to capture these exchanges. Today we should not confuse these Georgian caricatures as objective or realistic observations. (Unfortunately, I could not find the many images in the public domain in Steve Pool’s presentation, except for this one.) 

A modern belle going to the Rooms at Bath-Gillray

A modern belle going to the rooms at Bath, James Gillray, 1796. Wikimedia Commons. The chairmen are drawn as rough, unhappy, and loutish. The belle is tender and refined. Notice the traditional Bath chairmen outfits.

Rules and regulations by the magistrates regarding the conduct of chairmen give us an insight into the difficulty they encountered in making a decent living. 

  1. Chairmen were required to apply for a license each winter to operate.
  2. Their clothes and combination of colors were strictly enforced. 
  3. Work began at 6 AM and lasted until midnight.
  4. The number of stands were enforced with the permits restricted for each site. If the maximum number of permits was reached, the chairmen would have to find another stand in another part of town.
  5. Only two places in Bath permitted an unregulated and unranked number of chairs: at the upper and lower assembly rooms, and occasionally “at the theater on play night or outside the Guildhall after an entertainment.” (Interestingly, the magistrates made sure that the stands connected the lower town with the newer uptown.)

Costs for licenses and stands were high for a 12-month period. In addition, complaints about the chairmen’s conduct were heard twice a week by the magistrates at lunchtime. Serious offenses included carrying customers without a license (40 shillings) to standing at a stand that was already full (10-20 shillings.)

When one considers that in 1739  chairmen charged only 1 shilling for any journey between 500 yards and a mile, and only 6 pence within city walls, and that this charge did not change for most of the century, one can understand why the chairmen began to object against the rigid, unchanging pricing system.

One other consideration is the customer’s behavior. Anstey, in his poeticals in The New Bath Guide 1780, described this incident in verse:

THIS Morning, dear Mother, as soon as ’twas light,

I was wak’d by a Noise that astonish’d me quite,
For in Tabitha’s Chamber I heard such a Clatter,
I could not conceive what the Deuce was the Matter:
And, would you believe it ? I went up and found her
In a Blanket, with two lusty Fellows around her
Who both seem’d a going to carry her off in
A little black Box just the Size of a Coffin;

Pray tell me, says I, what ye’re doing of there ?’
Why, Master, ’tis hard to be bilk’d of our Fare,
And so we were thrusting her into a Chair:
We don’t see no Reason for using us so,

For she bad us come hither, and now she Won’t go ;
We’ve earn’d all the Fare, for we both came and knock’d her
Up, as soon as ’twas light, by Advice of the Doctor:
And this is a Job that we often go a’ter
For Ladies that choose to go into the Water.”

Can anyone blame the chairmen for their gruff, forward, and insistent manners? The constant tugs of war among the magistrates, workers, and those of the Quality and rising middle classes who required their services, created many conflicts. The magistrates set down precise distances and costs, which were published in Bath Guides. When the city grew outside of traditional boundaries, the chairmens’ grievances for wanting an increase in fares for lengthier trips, and for the steep uphill treks to Landsdowne, north of the city, fell on deaf ears. 

Comforts of Bath Rowlandson Met museum

Rowland, Comforts of Bath, Plate 12. Notice the bath chair on the left. This hill in front of the Royal Crescent, was a favorite setting for the caricaturist to show the challenges of the sick and aging in getting around Bath’s hilly terrain. Public Domain image. Met Museum.

Steve Pool’s discussion included the chairmen’s rebellion, in which they refused to pay for licenses or carrying anyone to their destinations. In 1794, the magistrates included a higher scale of charges. They ended the discussion by stating that “This sweeping industrial relations victory was made possible through democratic reform societies, Mason trades unionism, and a measure of the chairman’s collective industrial strength.”

As a contemporary listener, I compare today’s low wage workers, whose minimum wages have not changed for two decades, with the chairmen in Bath’s past. The Bath chairmen revolted; today’s minimum workers are revolting as well. History’s past has turned full circle and is still relevant today in terms of liberty and equality!

Only a few more days remain for readers to view the Bath 250 Virtual Conference (see link in the introduction), which, in the 5 workshops I’ve viewed, has been filled with new information. 

Sources:

Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive: Anstey, Christopher, 1724-1805. The new Bath guide: or, memoirs of the B-r-d family. In a series of poetical epistles. [London]: Sold by J. Dodsley; J. Wilson & J. Fell; and J. Almon, London; W. Frederick, at Bath; W. Jackson, at Oxford; T. Fletcher & F. Hodson, at Cambridge; W. Smith, at Dublin; and the booksellers of Bristol, York, and Edinburgh, 1766

Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, by John Matthews. A Critical Edition for Readers of Jane Austen. Series Editor: Ben Wiebracht. A book review on Jane Austen’s World blog.

Thomas Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Plate 12, Publisher: S. W. Fores (London), January 6, 1798. Public Domain image, Met Museum.

As we investigate the private lives of Regency Women, it’s important to consider money and a woman’s private expenses. If a genteel woman was expected to dress a certain way, do her hair in the latest styles, wear the right shoes and accessories to accentuate her beauty, and care for her own private needs and beauty regimes, how did she pay for everything she needed?

If one of Jane Austen’s heroines (or Jane herself) wanted to purchase something like a bonnet or a ribbon or a new gown, where did she get the money? Who supplied her with money, what was the amount she might have to spend, and how often was it replenished? Let’s find out!

You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent—some of it, at least—my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and books.

Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
Magazine of Female Fashions of London and Paris, No.21. London Dresses, 1799, Wikipedia Commons.

Pin Money

Pin money, also sometimes referred to as an allowance, was the money that genteel Regency women used for personal expenses, such as dresses, hats, shoes, and other things of that sort. She kept an accounting of it herself and must balance her own budget.

The history of the term “pin money” dates back to the 1500s: “At that time, pin money was a substantial sum that was used for important purchases. The expression is linked to the price of straight pins, once items that were very rare and expensive, and part of the necessary purchases to run a household” (Grammarist). Over time, the term became synonymous with a woman’s personal money.

For the most part, genteel Regency women were entirely reliant on their male relatives for any “loose cash” for their own personal expenses. As an unmarried woman, she would only have what money her father or a close male relative gave to her (or left to her). Once married, she only had what her husband gave to her or what she was entitled to as part of her marriage settlement.

British Sixpence, 1816, Wikipedia Commons.

Jane Austen’s Allowance

We know that Jane Austen herself had a small allowance from her father. In Oliver MacDonough’s Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds, we read this: “Jane had nothing of her own beyond the pin-money allowed her by her father, which was probably only £20 a year.” Cassandra’s annual allowance, as noted in a letter from 28 December 1798 was twenty pounds: “If you will send my father an account of your Washing & Letter expenses, & c, he will send you a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter [£5, to be paid on 1 January].”

Mrs. Darcy’s Pin Money

Finally, Pride and Prejudice shows us how a generous allowance allowed married women to live in comfort, having enough for their own needs and for the needs of others, either for charitable giving or to help support family members.

We can now read Mrs. Bennet’s famous reaction to Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy with even more interest:

Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it – nothing at all.

Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, Pride and Prejudice, 1995

And it seems that Mrs. Bennet was correct indeed. We see this play out when Lydia writes to Elizabeth at the end of Pride and Prejudice, hoping to get a regular allowance from Elizabeth and Darcy: “As it happened that Elizabeth had much rather not, she endeavoured in her answer to put an end to every intreaty and expectation of the kind.”

However, while the Darcys do not provide the Wickhams with a regular allowance, Elizabeth still kindly send gifts of money on a frequent basis to help Lydia. She gives this money out of her own private funds, which as the text implies, was substantial:

Such relief, however, as it was in her power to afford, by the practice of what might be called economy in her own private expenses, she frequently sent them. . . and whenever [the Wickhams] changed their quarters, either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The Love of Money

Money mattered greatly in the lives of Jane Austen’s Regency women. Having “loose cash” didn’t just provide for bonnets and gowns; it also provided for the safety and protection of several of Austen’s female characters. Money could be used as a means of control or generosity. It could limit a woman or give her greater freedom.

Join me again next month as we delve further into Regency Women: Money Matters and look closely at several instances where Austen uses a lady’s personal money (or lack thereof) as a clever plot device.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.


Bath 250: A Virtual Conference to Mark The 250th Anniversary of the New Assembly Rooms at Bath – 29th & 30th September 2021

Rowlandson's black and white image of Bath's Ballroom

Streaming videos of all panels are now online for the next 2 wks, courtesy of @mbayliss90. They are:

 
Welcome & keynote from
 
 @Hannah_Greig : Having a Ball in Eighteenth Century England stream.liv.ac.uk/kmeb58mc
 
Panel 1: Assembly Rooms and Before; stream.liv.ac.uk/zunj9zrc Speakers: Cathryn Spence; David Hughes; Rupert Goulding
 
Panel 2; Polite & Impolite Bath; stream.liv.ac.uk/nfzd3vuf Speakers: Rachael Johnson, 

Panel 3; Women’s Experiences of Bath; stream.liv.ac.uk/g8mhfnyv Speakers: @CoffeeBookGirl, @Smudge2492, Mark Philp

Panel 4; Sociability, Celebrity & Politics; stream.liv.ac.uk/2wx54v8c Speakers: @ehchalus@GeorgianLords James Peate, Michael McMullen

Panel 5; Performance; stream.liv.ac.uk/fddhsqk4 Speakers: Ann Hinchcliffe, Matthew Spring, @BreeRob_Kirk Rhian Davies

Panel 6; Roundtable & Q&A Bath Assembly Rooms – The Next 250 years; stream.liv.ac.uk/23e8k8v8 Speakers: @OliverJWCox@OlivetteOtele, Tom Boden, @RegionalHistory

Panel 7; Day 2 Welcome; Bath town; stream.liv.ac.uk/28nxdrnn Speakers: Kevin Grieves, Amy Frost

Panel 8; Bath and Beyond; stream.liv.ac.uk/phncw99k Speakers: @SophieVasset Theophile Bonjour. @smellis_naylor#twitterstorians

Remember: These streaming videos are available for two weeks from the date of this post: 10/8/2021.

_______________________________________

Thank you, Prof Elaine Chalus and the University of Liverpool for posting these links on our Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook Group and making the links available to our followers.

In Addition:

In reference to Bath, I also refer you to our recent post by Dr. Ben Wiebracht about his online high school’s class work and publication on Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme by John Matthews.

Jane Austen: Art Critic

Inquiring Readers: Who knew? Jane Austen not only viewed works of art when visiting London, in one letter she spoke particularly well of a painting by Benjamin West, a successful American transplant in that city, whose major patron was King George III..

Austen’s Opinion About “Christ Rejected”

During a first visit to her Brother Henry’s new house in Hans Place, Austen wrote a letter to her dear friend Martha Lloyd. Whenever Jane visited London, she attended parties and balls, plays, and concerts. She also went shopping in a major way, and brought a list of items that friends and relatives wanted her to purchase for them. In this letter (109, as listed by Deirdre Le Faye in her Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters, and dated September 2, 1814) Jane mentions (among many other things) a painting she’d recently viewed.

Benjamin_West_-_Christ_rejected

Jane Austen was taken by the image of Christ in this painting. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

“I have seen West’s famous Painting, & prefer it to anything of the kind I ever saw before. I do not know that it is reckoned superior to his “Healing in the Temple”, but it has gratified me much more, & indeed is the first representation of our Savior which ever at all contented me. His “Rejection by the Elders”, is the subject.–I want to have You & Cassandra see it.”

Jane was writing about “Christ Rejected by the Jews”, now hanging at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1814, when this enormous and complicated painting was exhibited from June to late fall, and when Austen was visiting Henry, it hung in the “former” Royal Academy at 125 Pall Mall. Visitors were given a 3-page description of the work, which was filled with information about each of the characters in the painting. In the past, panoramas, dioramas, and tableaus, like those created by Emma Hamilton, were popular Georgian entertainment. 

Austen mentions that not only did this painting gratify her, but that this was the “first representation of our Savior which ever at all contented me.” She wanted her best friend, Martha, and her beloved sister, Cassandra, to view the painting in person. Ellen Moody in Reveries Under the Sign of Austen, Two mentions that this was: 

“A highly unusual passage for Jane Austen: she has been talking about what tastes she likes and by association (how the letters proceed) she moves to discourse about solemn religious painting done in the grand historical style. I suggest Martha liked these or mentioned them in her letter. For Jane’s part, in this sort of picture what she likes best is Christ Rejected. Martha seems to have wanted to know if Christ Healing the Sick is considered superior — hinting perhaps that she, Martha, preferred it.”

In fact, Moody states that this is the first time the reader reads explicitly religious language from Austen, when she mentions “Our savior.” Food for thought from a clergyman’s devoted & religious daughter.

Who Was Benjamin West?

Benjamin West hardly raised a blip in my Art History courses, although he was a prominent painter during his life and in Great Britain. His paintings have not stood the test of time, but during his heyday, he was King George III’s favorite historical painter. And, so, when he moved to London in 1763, he established his atelier and metier within 5 years of his move to that great city. King George’s patronage ensured West’s success. He became the second President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1792 until his death in 1820 at 81. His enormous neoclassical paintings do not make my heart soar, although I find his portraits, especially his self-portraits, interesting and masterful. (Hover cursor over the portraits for details.)

Austen’s mention of “Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple”

This painting was not Austen’s favorite of the two, however, its immense popularity drew crowds. It has an interesting and convoluted history. From Jane’s excerpt in her letter, she found the latter painting of ‘Christ Rejected” more meaningful. West, however, was so attached to this painting that he created a second version that he donated to a Pennsylvania Hospital.  Interestingly

christ healing

Christ Healing. Small image from Portraits in Revolution

“On its [first] completion in 1811 it was exhibited in London to immense crowds, and was subsequently purchased by the British Institution for 3,000 guineas — the largest sum ever paid for a modern work.”  

And so West painted another version, with an “improved composition”, which he sent to the Pennsylvania Hospital (where it still resides, with this partial  note:

“Mr. West bequeaths the said picture to the Hospital in the joint names of himself and his wife, the late Elizabeth West, as their gratuitous offering and as a humble record of their patriotic affection for the State of Pennsylvania, in which they first inhaled the vital air — thus to perpetuate in her native city of Philadelphia the sacred memory of that amiable lady who was his companion in life for fifty years and three months.

I could not find a public domain, copy right free  image of this painting. This link leads to a high quality image of “Christ Healing the Sick.” and information about the painting.

Conclusion:

Austen’s letters add so much flavor to our knowledge about her life, thoughts, and novels. I highly recommend that all Austen devotees read every letter that has been printed, starting with Deirdre Le Faye’s masterwork, the compilation of Jane Austen’s Letters.

More about this topic

Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

I am enjoying reading a brand-new book, Jane Austen: A Companion, by Laura Dabundo. I’m finding it easy to read and full of fascinating information and insights.

Jane Austen: A Companion, by Laura Dabundo, is an encyclopedic resource on Austen, her novels, and her world, full of fascinating insights.

The book is essentially an encyclopedia of Austen. Sample topic entries cover agriculture; animals and hunting; the Church of England and Anglicanism; and sensibility and sentimentality. She explores each topic in the context of Austen’s England and shows how it connects to Austen’s writing.

You’ll find people from Austen’s life, both family members and friends. I met a few new ones, including Brook Edward Bridges, who apparently proposed to Jane at one time, though he was “too young and thoughtless” to be an appropriate husband for her. While many books include Austen’s friends and family in her story, it’s helpful to have each one’s story told separately.

Dabundo also explores locations, ranging from Chawton House and Manor to Brighton to Tonbridge. Each is given its place in Austen’s life, novels, and world.

Longer, deeper entries describe Austen’s life and each of her novels and shorter works. Dabundo argues in her Introduction that Austen is quintessentially a Romantic era writer. The novels fit chronologically into the Romantic period of English literature, and explore the feelings and internal lives of individuals.

I’ve interviewed Dr. Dabundo, who is a retired college professor, asking her to tell us more about herself and her book.

Laura, thank you for putting together this great reference on Jane Austen.

How did you first get interested in Jane Austen, and how did your interest grow from there?

From childhood I loved reading Jane Austen. I did not study the works in my academic career, but afterwards I returned to reading for pleasure. I slowly began critically appraising, researching, writing, presenting, teaching, and publishing about Austen. Eventually, besides my personal interest in her, she became one of my principal scholarly interests.

What do you most love about Jane Austen and her novels?  

I can’t pin it down to any one thing, because she was a genius. Her vision of the world was anchored in morality and religion, but represented the great variety of humanity. I don’t mean the diversity of backgrounds our societies seek today, but she included the full range of human behavior, motivations, and actions. And, of course, she was a splendid crafter. She wove eloquence, themes, ideas, complicated characters, and more into her beautifully written works. 

What led you to write Jane Austen: A Companion?  

Such a book was not on my radar at all.  I was not familiar with the publisher (McFarland) or the series (McFarland Companions to 19th Century Literature). However, I had written book chapters and book reviews for the series editor, Larry Mazzeno, who works for different journals and publishers. He wrote me out of the blue to ask if I would be interested in writing this book. Of course, I was thrilled! I had to prepare a long, formal proposal according to the publisher’s specifications, and the editor and publisher asked me to write the book. 

There are other “companions” to Jane Austen available; what is special about yours? 

Thank you for this question! Maybe a dozen books about Austen include the word “companion” in the title. Mine is the only single-authored one, which means it is unified and consistent. I could include extensive cross-references because I knew all the material and how it was related.

Also, most other “companion” books are collections of scholarly and academic essays designed for scholars and graduate students. Mine is specifically aimed at an educated general audience. That may include scholars, students, Janeites, and anyone seeking to know more about Austen and the people, places, events, times, and tropes of her life and work. I also explore what I call the strange “literary-industrial complex” of her afterlife in later adaptations. Of course, I read tons of literary criticism in writing this book. But I wanted my version to be accessible and useful as an introduction, a review, and a resource covering the remarkable cultural phenomenon of Jane. 

I know that your publisher chose your title and cover image to match the rest of the series they are producing. What title and image would you have chosen for your book, and why?

I had hoped to use a beautiful, full-color watercolor of the Cobb at Lyme Regis on the cover. As you know, this artificial breakwater features at a climax of Persuasion. However, the publishers naturally wanted the book to look similar to others in the series. So they used Cassandra’s portrait of Jane, which is probably not very accurate and is certainly overused. The picture of the Cobb I had suggested appears as a black and white version opposite the Table of Contents. (See the original here, The Cobb, Lyme Regis.)

Similarly, I wanted to call the book “Here, There, and Everywhere with Jane Austen.” This quote from Sanditon would have set the book apart from other companions on the market and emphasized Austen’s wide appeal. But the title needed to fit the rest of the series.

“Here, there, and everywhere” is a quote from Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon about Sidney Parker. His brother says Sidney is “here and there and everywhere” (chapter 4).

What were some interesting things you learned when researching your book?

One thing I hadn’t realized was that Jane Austen’s cousin, Jane Cooper, spent much of her childhood with the Austen family, especially after her mother’s death. So really there were three girls in the house full of boys. Young Jane Austen had, in effect, the experience of two older sisters, not just one.

Also, I knew that her rich Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot was arrested, jailed, and tried for shoplifting in Bath and then cleared of the charge. I learned that her attorney believed her guilty and that she was later accused again of shoplifting. That time it was settled and hushed up quickly. I felt more sympathy for her when I learned of her background. When she was just six years old, she was dispatched from her home in Barbados to boarding school in England. Imagine what trauma that experience of separation from home and family and the long, lonely trans-Atlantic crossing must have done to her psyche!

I’ll leave you to read the book to find more insights about Austen’s novels and times and those who followed her and tried to keep her alive in their works! 

What parts of your book do you think a serious “Janeite” will find most interesting and illuminating?

It depends on their interests. I tried to be comprehensive as well as open-ended. Someone wanting to know about the times—for example, the Regency, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, slavery and abolition, or the Church of England—will find useful information. Those looking for coherent interpretations of the works of Austen and her contemporaries will find those. I included biographies of all her family members and a few friends, pulling together into single entries information which is scattered through Austen biographies as those people appear in and disappear from her life.

What part of the book did you most enjoy writing, and why?  

Whatever I was writing at the time! Even the historical stuff! I waited until the end to write about most of the novels, so I would know what I had already said, and because that would be the most fun to do. I believe in delayed gratification!

Tell us about what you have written about Jane Austen in the past, and any projects you have planned for the future.

My previous book is The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth. I argue that Austen and Wordsworth, the preeminent novelist and poet of English Romanticism, were at heart Christian writers. (That belief seeps into my latest book also, of course.) I examine their works separately and comparatively to make the point. My favorite parts are two essays that began as presentations. In one I compare Lady Catherine de Bourgh to the Tempter/Devil who confronts Jesus in the Wilderness. She comes to scold Elizabeth Bennet out of marriage to Darcy in the “wilderness” of Longbourn. The other was written for a JASNA AGM in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” where I was born. So I wrote about the City of Sisterly Love in Austen, developing the motifs of “city” and of sisters in Austen.

Professor Dabundo’s earlier book on Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth

When I sent the Companion manuscript off to the publisher, we were all stuck at home in the first round of Covid. I cast about for something else to write and hit upon three autobiographical prose pieces I had written over the years. I pulled them together into a memoir of my own personal spiritual journey. Wipf and Stock published it, to my delight, as When the Parallel Converge, with a better cover than I imagined. It is very short and not at all like my work on Austen, though I do mention her a couple times. 

Future projects will be more religiously and spiritually based, I think. I did just get an idea for something about Austen, but now I don’t know where I put that piece of paper!

 

I know you’ll be speaking at the JASNA AGM next month in Chicago, and that the talk will be based on material in this book. What will you be talking about, and why did you choose that topic?

At first I could not think of anything useful on my part to say about the Arts and Austen. But I realized I could write about popular/contemporary arts. That includes what I think is a unique section of my book, though it has been relegated to an Appendix. I have called it “the military-industrial complex” of Austen, though it is really a “literary-industrial complex.” In it I discuss, with examples and criticism, Austen’s “afterlife” of sequels, prequels, works in which Austen or her characters appear, movies, plays, and TV shows. The paper I will be presenting contains some new thoughts on those areas, though the book includes more than the presentation can cover.

I was privileged to hear a trial run of your talk, and I know AGM participants will enjoy it! Thank you for sharing with us, Laura.

 

Readers of JAW, you can read Jane Austen: A Companion straight through or dip into the parts that interest you. I am appreciating every section. I’ll be glad to have it as a handy reference on my shelf, and I recommend it to you.

 

Books by Laura Dabundo

Jane Austen: A Companion, by Laura Dabundo. McFarland Companions to 19th Century Literature, 2021. 

The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth, by Laura Dabundo. Mercer University Press, 2012. 

When the Parallel Converge, by Laura Dabundo. Wipf and Stock Resource Publications, 2021. 

Laura Dabundo’s spiritual memoir

Book cover of Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme by John Matthews

Cover of Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme by John Matthews

Inquiring readers: Many of you who have visited here before are aware of Dr. Wiebracht’s online senior high school students’ research on John Matthews’s 18th century poem “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme.” This link leads to their published work, as well as Dr. Wiebracht’s description about the project and his advice for teachers on starting a similar semester-long online endeavor. Their remarkable results were published on this blog in January and spring of this year. The third step in Dr. Wiebracht’s examination of the poem – a publication – is presented in this review.

So the beaux in their boots, the belles in their slippers,

Come to walk up and down, and peep at the dippers,

For though strange it appears, I’d have you to know,

Whilst you’re drinking above, some are bathing below,

And each glass of water brought up by the pumps

Contains the quintessence of half-a-score rumps.”

Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, John Matthews

cruikshank-bathing-bath

A Peep at the Dippers, Cruikshank. Public Domain Image

The forgotten contemporaries of Jane Austen and an introduction to the first book in a series that will examine them

In his introduction of this unique annotated publication, Wiebracht writes that it:

speaks as directly as possible to the typical reader – the same reader Austen herself addressed. And teachers and students, particularly high-school students, will be inspired to know that the volume they are reading was researched, designed, and edited in large part by other high-school students. Indeed, as a teacher and scholar, one of my hopes for this series is that it challenges the narrow assumption that only university faculty and graduate students are capable of making original contributions to literary scholarship. This isn’t so.”

After the students completed their project in December 2020, Dr. Wiebracht and his academic colleagues continued to study the Adumbration. The result was this completed book, published in August of this year.

The major goals for Dr. Wiebracht, his students, and academic researchers were to find original sources to chronicle the genesis of this poem and the resources that influenced it. These sources can be found in the Table of Contents under bibliography and further reading, as well as a biographical essay on John Matthews, and an essay on Bath satire. Also included is a thoroughly accessible, but academic analysis of *Northanger Abbey (with references to Persuasion) regarding Austen’s descriptions of Bath, Anstley’s The New Bath Guide (1762), and G. Davis’s and P. Bonhall’s book, entitled A History of Bath: Image and Reality (2006). The highlight of this volume, though, is the poem, located near the very end. My close friend, H. Major, (and editor) particularly liked how the annotations were placed on the right page, next  to the archaic phrases in the poem on the left page for helpful understanding.

annotation of the adumbration

Side by side- poem on the left, annotation on the right

This 54-page book is the first in a planned series entitled Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen. The selected works will have a varied audience in mind, with characteristics that include: 

  1. The work is not available in any other modern edition.
  2. It must discuss subjects that directly concern Jane Austen and are featured prominently in her novels.
  3. It must be relatively short to enable teachers and professors to use it as a supplement in a class or unit devoted to Jane Austen.
  4. It must have merit in its own right.

I won’t reveal too many details about the information contained in this first Critical Edition, for it would spoil your fun in learning what it has to offer when you purchase the book, which I recommend highly, but I would like to mention one sequence of connections that clearly tie several topics together: Bath in the late 18th century + Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion + 18th century satire + writing in rhyme + macaronis and fops + Matthew’s one-dimensional view of fops compared to Austen’s more masterful take on that fashionable group of gentlemen.

Historical and literary connections:

In 1762, Christopher Anstey wrote The New Bath Guide: Or Memoirs of the B-R-D Family, which consisted of 15 letters in poetic verse. The popularity of this guide began a tradition of writing letters, journals, and guides in rhyme. Decades later, John Matthews followed in his footsteps by using bawdy and satiric references, while also including Greek myths and the daily habits of visitors to Bath, and the region’s topography.

A portion of the page of Anstey's guide

Anstey’s rhyme regarding a reflection on arrival in Bath

In his poem, published in 1795, Matthews describes a day in Bath from morning to night using the sharp humor characteristic of Georgian era satire (notice the quote about taking the waters in the pump room at the start of this review). Matthews was not the only one to follow this wide practice. Men and women of fashion often wrote in rhyme, as did Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra, who wrote delightful recipes in that tradition. Jane, too, wrote poetry, but her poems are merely adequate when compared to her novels.

In one passage in the Adumbration, Matthews mentions macaronis in Milsom Street:

“Where, booted and spurred, the gay macaronies, 

Bestride Mandell’s counter instead of their ponies,

Preferring the pleasure of ‘tending the fair,

To breathing the freshness of Lansdown’s pure air” – Matthews

From the mid-18th century, cartoonists and writers made merry sport of the affectations of effete fops and macaronis, who were objects of visual and verbal fun. In his Adumbration, Matthews follows his era’s sardonic judgment. The annotations offer definitions and historical context that are placed conveniently near the Georgian terms and phrases that modern readers no longer understand. 

Image of a macaroni

1774 Wikimedia image of a macaroni or fop. “What is This, My Son Tom?”

Jane Austen’s take on fops, in the form of  Sir Walter Elliot (Persuasion), a man who cared more about his personal appearance than most men and women of his acquaintance, is more nuanced than Matthews’ fops, for behind Sir Walter’s sartorial pride and conceit, is a man disdainful of the middling sort, a man whose high opinion is reserved only for those he deems his equals, and a man who squanders his inheritance in the service of his immense ego. Unlike Austen, Mathews simply makes surface sport of a macaroni’s preference for fashion, much like the caricatures of his era.

Both Austen and Matthews portrayed Bath past its prime, however. It was once a highly desired resort town that, by the 1790’s, saw the mingling of the rising middle classes with an aging gentry and those on the downward slide, like Sir Walter, or with fortune hunters. Today, we read Matthews’ guide for fun and understanding; but we tend to reread Jane’s “fun” novels for their richness and insights!

matthew.austen

Portraits of John Matthews and Jane Austen. Vic’s image is from the book

Stanford online high school student testimonials:

The Jane Austen’s World team would like to thank the students for their hard work on this project and the excellent results. We would also like to thank Dr. Wiebracht and his colleagues for illuminating this document for a wider audience. In addition to their research, students were required to read Austen’s *Northanger Abbey. They also attended two 1 hour zoom workshops, one given by Tony Grant, and the other given by me, Vic.  A number of them sent notes of thanks!

“Thank you so much for being willing to get involved in our Bath project, for your enthusiasm on our work, and for helping us learn something new and unique about Jane Austen’s era! – Josie Chan

“Thank you so much for giving us a space on your platform, and for visiting our class last year!  Your insight on both Jane Austen and the publication process was invaluable.” –  Varsha Venkatram

“Thank you so much not only for giving us the opportunity to publish on your blog but for sharing your expertise. Your advice was an invaluable guide in this process.” – Sophia Romagnoli

“Thank you for visiting our class and publishing our article on your blog! It’s an honor to have been part of a team contribution to Jane Austen’s World. – Carolyn Engargiola

Note from Jane Austen’s World: Dear students, the honor is ours. We are so proud of your research and contributions, and cannot recommend this book highly enough – Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant

Order the book on Amazon:

Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme: A Critical Edition for Readers of Jane Austen (Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen) Paperback – 8 August 2021

by John Matthews  (Author), Ben Wiebracht (Editor), Josephine Chan (Editor), & 6 more

$9.99 U.S.

54 pages

Publisher: Pixelia Publishing (August 8, 2021)

Language: English

Paperback: 54 pages

U.S. Amazon

UK Amazon

Links:

After my previous article on Regency Women: Beauty Behind the Scenes, I realized that the things I really want to know more about concerning Jane Austen’s Regency women aren’t (and weren’t) discussed as much as other topics such as beauty regimes.

I wanted to know about bodily functions (where in the world did a lady relieve herself if she was, say, at a ball?), feminine hygiene (what did women do during “that time of the month?”), and pregnancy and birth (why did so many women die as a result of childbirth?).

Finding this information wasn’t as easy as some of the other information I’ve researched over the years. Why? Because some of these topics (such as menstruation) weren’t discussed openly or written about during Jane Austen’s time. Scholarly authors and bloggers even sometimes make the joke, “maybe women didn’t menstruate back then!”

The truth is, Regency women had specific needs, just as women do now, but information about those needs was shared more discreetly. Women passed information, supplies, and advice to one another—from mother to daughter, sister to sister, cousin to cousin, and even friend to friend. Additionally, terms and nicknames were used for certain topics, such as “in that way” (pregnant); “lying-in” or “confinement” (nearing her due date); and “brought to bed” (gave birth). We can imagine that in some families, young women were informed about such topics without much or any discussion; in others, perhaps a bit more instruction was provided.

Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer, Sense and Sensibility

I can’t help wishing they had not travelled quite so fast, nor made such a long journey of it, for they came all round by London upon account of some business, for you know (nodding significantly and pointing to her daughter) it was wrong in her situation. I wanted her to stay at home and rest this morning, but she would come with us; she longed so much to see you all!”

Mrs. Palmer laughed, and said it would not do her any harm.

“She expects to be confined in February,” continued Mrs. Jennings.

Lady Middleton could no longer endure such a conversation, and therefore exerted herself to ask Mr. Palmer if there was any news in the paper.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (emphasis mine)

In attempt to shed some light on these topics, the following is an overview of each, along with a few resources that go into greater detail. As always, I heartily encourage our well-read JAW readers to comment with other resources that can help provide more information on these “privy” matters (pun intended).

Bodily Functions

At home, chamber pots were frequently used and kept under the bed, out of sight, and emptied and cleaned by a servant. A privy or outhouse was outside the home, away from the house. Many times, flowers were planted near the outhouse to help cover the odor. For an in-depth history of Regency plumbing, you can read this wonderful article from The Jane Austen Centre on The Development of Regency Plumbing.

But what about when a lady was traveling or at a ball? As some of you may already know, a fully dressed lady could (carefully) relieve herself using a small chamber pot called a bourdaloue (or bourdalou) without soiling her skirts. Her maid would stand nearby to help and/or receive the pot and empty it. (Note: Men were known to relieve themselves behind a screen into a chamber pot in the dining room.) For more on this strangely intriguing topic, you can read Vic’s engaging article, Regency Hygiene: The Bourdaloue.

Ladies Bourdaloue, a personal chamber pot.

Feminine hygiene and sanitary items

And what, pray tell, did a lady to do when menstruating? In her article “On ‘Flowers’: A short but frank post on how 18thC women dealt with menstruation,” Lucy Inglis has several interesting tidbits to share: Early sanitary pads were used by women in Georgian England, made from a variety of materials. “Women troubled by particularly heavy periods wrapped a belt or bandage about their hips and wore a baby’s muslin napkin looped over the front and back, with stitched ‘sanitary pads’ lining this loincloth.  These pads could be boiled and reused…”

As for tampons, this was surprisingly not unheard of. Early handbooks discuss “‘suppositories’ for the ‘privy place’ made from a smoothed stick, wrapped in absorbent linen rags and securely stitched. A long cord was sewn in. Some disposable; some boiled and reused” (Inglis). For menstrual cramps and other issues, herbal remedies were often used. For more on this topic and others like it, check out Inglis’ book Georgian London: Into the Streets.

Regency families were often large to account for high child mortality rates.

Pregnancy and childbirth

During the Regency era, childbirth was still one of the most dangerous threats to a woman’s health and life. Up to 20% of all women died either in childbirth, or immediately following birth, most often due to infection. (Many accounts place the infant mortality rate at about the same level.) The practice of washing hands, disinfecting instruments, and providing clean linens and ventilation in birthing chambers did not become common until about the 1840s, which then lowered the mortality rate from 18% to about 6% (Jane Austen Centre). To read an in-depth discussion of birth, birthing rooms, and advances in obstetrics, read here: “Developements in Childbirth in Regency and Victorian England: Childbirth and Lying-In during the Regency” by Kathleen Charon.

Some of the issues that plagued new mothers and babies were due to limited medical practices and a lack of simple hygiene, but there were other factors at play as well. For instance, instead of having women move, walk, and get a breath fresh air, a “lying-in” or “confinement” period was observed before, during, and even after giving birth.

During the birth, a midwife would likely be in attendance; in some instances, a doctor might come. The birthing room was heated and enclosed so that women would not catch cold; however, the stifling rooms often caused a host of other issues, including an increase in infection. After giving birth, women were kept in bed, often given only weak tea and a liquid diet, instead of hearty, nourishing foods to help her heal and gain strength.

I have just received a note from James to say that Mary was brought to bed last night, at eleven o’clock, of a fine little boy, and that everything is going on very well. My mother had desired to know nothing of it before it should be all over, and we were clever enough to prevent her having any suspicion of it…

Jane Austen’s Letters, Godmersham Park, 17 November 1798.
Queen Charlotte, King George IIIs consort, gave birth to 15 children in 21 years. These are their 6 eldest.

Indeed, life for women in Jane Austen’s Regency England, even as part of the upper classes, was uncomfortable, difficult, and dangerous. When I think of my own birth, and the births of my two children, by caesarean section, with the help modern medicine, I stand amazed at the bravery of the women who came before me. To say I’m thankful for the miraculous advances in medicine and obstetrics today would be an understatement.

This, I’m sure, is only the tip of the iceberg with these topics. If you have other resources to share, such as books, articles, podcasts, or talks, please include them in the comments! Next month, check back for my upcoming article, Regency Women: Pin Money and Private Expenses.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

By Brenda S. Cox

“ . . . it was settled that they should be married as soon as the Writings could be completed. Mary was very eager for a Special Licence and Mr. Watts talked of Banns. A common Licence was at last agreed on.”—Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, “The Three Sisters”

In Jane Austen’s early story, “The Three Sisters,” Mary is marrying a man she hates, in order to marry before her sisters. She and Mr. Watts argue about everything, with Mary on the side of extravagance and her fiancé on the side of economy. She wants an expensive, exclusive special license (which he would not actually qualify for), while he wants banns, which are free. They agree on a compromise, a common license. What were these three options for getting married?

For most weddings, the parish clergyman announced the banns for three Sundays prior to the wedding. If no one objected, the wedding could take place.
Dr. Syntax Preaching, from The Tour of Doctor Syntax, 1812. Image Public Domain, from the British Library via Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons.

Banns

“The idea of Edward’s being a clergyman, and living in a small parsonage-house, diverted him beyond measure;—and when to that was added the fanciful imagery of Edward reading prayers in a white surplice, and publishing the banns of marriage between John Smith and Mary Brown, he could conceive nothing more ridiculous.” –Robert Ferrars thinking of his brother Edward as a clergyman in Sense and Sensibility

Most people got married with banns; the free option. The couple had to notify the parish clergyman a week in advance of the first announcement. They told him their full names, places of residence, and intention to marry. Then the parson announced the banns three Sundays in a row.

If the couple lived in different parishes, the banns had to be announced in both their parish churches (or chapels, if they attended a chapel-of-ease for a parish church).

Each Sunday, the minister would announce, for example, “I publish the banns of marriage between Charles Bingley of Meryton and Jane Bennet of Meryton. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first (or second, or third) time of asking.” (I am assuming that the parish was named after its principal town, Meryton, as parishes often were, and that they lived in the same parish.)

If either of them was under twenty-one, a parent could stand up and say he did not agree to the marriage, and prevent the wedding. If anyone else knew of another objection, such as one of the people being already married, or the couple being too closely related to each other, they could also block the marriage.

Once the banns had been announced three times, with no objections, the parson could perform the marriage. It had to be in the parish church or chapel, between 8 AM and noon.

Everyone except for Quakers and Jews had to be married in the parish church, unless they had a special license. Roman Catholics had to be married by an Anglican clergyman (even with a special license), but could also have their own Catholic ceremony. All marriages had to be registered in the parish church’s registry, wherever they took place.

Those who did not want the publicity of banns, or who were in a hurry to get married (perhaps the bride was pregnant), or who simply wanted the prestige of paying for a license, had two other options.

Image of Mr and Mrs Elton taking tea
Mr and Mrs Elton, in the 2020 film version of Emma.
A clergyman like Mr. Elton could marry a couple by banns, common license, or special license.

Common Licenses

“Upon my word, it is really a pity that it should not take place directly, if we had but a proper licence, for here we are altogether, and nothing in the world could be more snug and pleasant.”—Julia Bertram in Mansfield Park, when they are in the Sotherton chapel, speaking of Mr. Rushworth’s wedding to Maria

Mary and Mr. Watts agree on a common license, which was also called a standard license or a bishop’s license. Julia Betram may also be thinking of a common license, though it would have to have been written specifically for the Sotherton chapel. (That chapel would not necessarily be a place where marriages could take place. If it isn’t, they would need a special license to marry there.)

A bishop or his representative could issue this license, which was much more popular than a special license. It cost two or three pounds. It was valid for three months, and the couple had to wait seven days before getting married. (In many parts of the country, it would take longer than that to go to London, get a special license, and return.)

The common license named the church or chapel for the marriage: normally the parish church of one of them, in a parish where he or she had lived for at least four weeks. They could marry any morning, in that church.

If the bride or groom was under 21, the groom or other witnesses had to swear that they had their parents’ consent and there was no bar to their marriage, or they might need a written statement of approval from the parents. (If they married without their parents’ consent and it was discovered later, the marriage was invalid.)

A rich couple, particularly from the nobility, might have one more option: a special license.

 

Elizabeth and Darcy, just married, from the 1995 BBC film version of Pride and Prejudice.
Did they get married by special license, as Mrs. Bennet hoped?

Special Licenses

“My dearest child,” she cried, “I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! ‘Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence. You must and shall be married by a special licence.” –Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth tells her she is marrying Darcy

Authors of Regency fiction love to have their characters marry by “special license.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, highest church official, could issue special licenses which allowed a couple to get married anywhere at any time. Application had to be made to the ecclesiastical court at Doctors Commons in London.

Such licenses were limited to members of the nobility and their children, baronets (like Sir Walter Elliot) and knights (like Sir William Lucas; these were titled people but not nobility), certain high government officials, and Members of Parliament. Others could get a license if they could convince the Archbishop that they really needed it because of their particular circumstances. Darcy doesn’t exactly fit in these categories, although he is the grandson of an earl so probably has good enough connections to get one if he wants it. He could certainly have paid the five pound fee. (It became five pounds around 1811.)

Special licenses were rare. In 1730, six were issued; in 1830, twenty-two were issued. In contrast, around 2,700 common licenses were issued per year.

Elopements

One more option, of course, was that an underage couple without their parents’ consent could run all the way north to Scotland. There, just across the border at Gretna Green (or anywhere, really), they could be married by anyone–a blacksmith did many such weddings. Scotland had few restrictions on marriage at that time. It wasn’t totally clear how legal such marriages were in England, but they were usually accepted.

 

Jane Austen makes no other mention of banns or licenses in her novels, so we’re free to imagine how each of her couples got married. Wickham and Lydia probably had a common license, to speed up their marriage. It’s possible, though, that Darcy requested a special license for them because of their circumstances, having lived together already. I imagine Emma and Mr. Knightley upholding English tradition and having banns called in both their parish churches. Although that might have been too much of a trial for Mr. Woodhouse’s nerves (and maybe he would even have objected!), so perhaps they got a common license. For the rest; what do you think?

Did Emma and Mr. Knightley marry with banns?
Scene from the film version of Emma, 1996.

Note: The British write licence for the noun, while Americans write license. I’ve used licence in the quotes and license elsewhere.

 

Sources, which also give more details

Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher, personal correspondence and her excellent website 

Many thanks to Nancy for all her help!

Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales

Pride and Prejudice, Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, edited by Pat Rogers, Cambridge University Press, 2006, notes 538-539.

Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, full text

Ecclesiastical Law by Richard Burn, LLD. London: Strahan, 1797. Sixth edition. Volume 3, pages 460-465. 

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is working on a book to be called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England. She will be speaking at the JASNA 2021 AGM on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England.”

Inquiring readers: Victoria Grossack, FCAS, the author of this piece and an actuary, sent this highly interesting article about Jane Austen and mathematics, a first topic for this blog. Enjoy!

Janeites esteem Jane Austen as a literary genius. Her characters are exquisitely drawn and her dialogue can be wickedly funny. She also uses the stream of consciousness technique before it became popular. All devotees know her novels are classics.

What about Austen as a mathematician, however? She never promotes herself in this regard. Like most female authors in her day, she doesn’t promote herself at all, not even putting her name on her novels – but in her writing, her mathematical abilities are evident. In fact, she uses math in a way that would make most actuaries proud. (Note: Actuaries are specialized mathematicians who generally work for insurance companies, which is relevant to some of the math Austen uses.)


Monetary Sums, Large and Small

Jane Austen and almost all of her characters are aware of the value of money, which would be true of most mathematicians (and certainly all actuaries). In fact, money is often a motivator for her characters’ choices in her novels. The young ladies often need to marry so they will have husbands to support them, while the single gentlemen are more attracted to single young ladies when they have significant dowries. Mr. Darcy’s income of £10,000 per annum makes him more handsome in Pride & Prejudice, while Mr. Wickham only courts Mary King after she inherits £10,000. Mr. Collins’s financial situation even wins him the hand of Charlotte Lucas:

Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 22)”

Image of the front and back of a half guinea

Image of a half guinea in the time of George III

However, Austen’s comprehension goes well beyond large, round sums and the necessity of an income. Mansfield Park has a lovely passage in which monetary gifts to William Price are discussed by his two aunts, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram.

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only £10.”

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his 3 pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 31)”

The amount of Mrs. Norris’s gift to William Price is never mentioned in Mansfield Park, but Jane Austen told her family (A Memoir of Jane Austen) that Mrs. Norris gave her nephew only one pound. Besides being a perfect contrast of the miserly Mrs. Norris versus her much more generous sister, the dialogue shows how well Austen understood the importance of relatively small sums, and how much £10 would mean to a midshipman in William Price’s position.

The Distress of Debt

Another reason for seeking a marriage settlement is to deal with debt. Several of the gentlemen (Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility, and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice) marry to escape debt, making life choices that they would have preferred not to make.

However, marriage is not the only solution to debt. Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, begins with the fact that the baronet, Sir Walter Elliot, has been living beyond his means and needs to “retrench” in order to regain solvency. As he is one of those people who is really bad at managing money, Austen comes up with the best method that will save him money: 

“Quit Kellynch Hall.” The hint was immediately taken up by Mr. Shepherd, whose interest was involved in the reality of Sir Walter’s retrenching, and who was perfectly persuaded that nothing would be done without a change of abode. (Persuasion, Chapter 2)

This change of abode is critical to the plot of Persuasion. It’s also sound business advice. 

Some readers may object that the examples given so far only prove that Austen had a mercenary side and do not demonstrate her understanding of mathematics. So let’s move on to other passages involving annuities and livings. These also concern money, but the math is more challenging.

Annuities and Livings

Annuities are insurance contracts that provide a fixed income stream, often for a person’s remaining lifetime. An annuity is a series of payments; these days annuities are often used as a way to pay out retirement, or are awarded in lieu of some lottery sum.

Life expancy from 1770 to 20018 of people from Oceania, Europe, Americas, Asia, World, Africa

Life expectancy over time

Now, annuities, when used by life insurance companies and pension funds, are fairly sure things because they can rely on expected values, i.e., mortality tables. In other words, life insurance companies and pension funds know approximately when their annuitants will die, on average. These organizations can manage because they work with large pools of people. Each annuitant can land anywhere on a distribution, but on average, given enough customers, an insurance company can have confidence in its ability to pay annuities.

However, if you are just one individual promising an annuity to just one other individual, you cannot rely on averages, because you can land anywhere on a distribution. It’s like throwing a pair of dice: on average, they will sum to 7, but you can roll anything from 2 to 12, and the probability of rolling something besides the mean is pretty good.  

So, that’s the underlying math. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen describes the dilemma a couple is facing when debating whether or not to promise an annuity to Mr. John Dashwood’s widowed stepmother. This sort of annuity would have to be guaranteed by them; they would not be in the position of a life insurance company that can have confidence in averages. Here are some of the remarks made by Fanny Dashwood to her husband, Mr. John Dashwood:

“… if you observe, people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. … It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities, that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for all the world.” (Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 2)

Fanny Dashwood’s speech demonstrates her meanness, but Jane Austen has also demonstrated her sophisticated understanding of the uncertainty associated with an annuity.

Let’s move on to livings. A living is the salary of a clergyman, a fixed number of pounds, associated with fulfilling the duties of a particular parish, sometimes paid in kind instead of cash. Austen, daughter and sister of several clergymen, understood the importance of livings.

Livings are critical to the characters in Pride & Prejudice and in Mansfield Park. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen gives real insight into the livings market, when a living for a small parish is being given by Colonel Brandon to Mr. Edward Ferrars. The discussion below takes place between Mr. John Dashwood and John’s half-sister, Elinor.

Really!—Well, this is very astonishing!—no relationship!—no connection between them!—and now that livings fetch such a price!—what was the value of this?”

“About two hundred a year.”

“Very well—and for the next presentation to a living of that value—supposing the late incumbent to have been old and sickly, and likely to vacate it soon—he might have got I dare say—fourteen hundred pounds. And how came he not to have settled that matter before this person’s death? Now, indeed it would be too late to sell it, but a man of Colonel Brandon’s sense! I wonder he should be so improvident in a point of such common, such natural, concern!” (Sense & Sensibility, Volume III, Chapter 41)

This shows Austen’s deep understanding of the mathematics of the livings market – as well as her talent to explain the situation clearly and to use that situation for effectively displaying the personalities of her characters.

Insistence on Accuracy

Austen’s mathematical talent is visible in matters, such as her understanding of chance in cards and her calculation of distances in journeys. She does not always go into these areas in depth, but they serve as reliable backgrounds for some of her scenes.  

Gold pocket watch opened, with cover and numerals inside

Halsted Pocket Watch

Furthermore, Austen is aware – as are most mathematicians – that a significant proportion of the population is not especially good in mathematics, and that their calculations and estimations should not be relied upon. The following dialogue takes place in Mansfield Park, between the characters Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram:

I am really not tired, which I almost wonder at; for we must have walked at least a mile in this wood. Do not you think we have?”

“Not half a mile,” was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness. … “We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his watch. “Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

As the passage above was written more than two hundred years ago, we’ll skip over the lack of political correctness. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that nearly every mathematician (or actuary) has to insist on using reasonable data and accurate calculations. Moreover, most mathematically inclined persons will review calculations, even their own, because mistakes are so easy to make.

Testing Assumptions for Reasonability

Just as important as data and accurate reckoning are the underlying assumptions. Mathematicians, when creating scenarios and simulations, always need to determine whether their assumptions are reasonable. Something similar comes up in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland she has allowed her imagination to run away with her.

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? … Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. … Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 24)

Austen insisted on making stories out of the probable rather than what was wild and fanciful. She always keeps her assumptions grounded in reality.

Proxy variables

My favorite example of Austen’s display of mathematical ability is when she uses a proxy variable. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of a proxy variable: “In statistics, a proxy or proxy variable is a variable that is not in itself directly relevant, but that serves in place of an unobservable or immeasurable variable. In order for a variable to be a good proxy, it must have a close correlation, not necessarily linear, with the variable of interest.”

In Emma, the following dialogue takes place between Mrs. Elton, the local vicar’s new bride, who recently arrived from Maple Grove, and Jane Fairfax, who happens to be the best educated of all of Austen’s heroines:

Photograph of the front of a modest stone building

Former National School, 1833, Gloucestershire.

“I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”

“Your parish there was small,” said Jane.

“Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”

“But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.” (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 16)

The number of children in the school serves as a proxy variable for the size of the parish. It is a perfect example of a proxy variable.

Family Connections

As we have seen, Jane Austen repeatedly shows her understanding of mathematics. The case, in my opinion, is proved, but there is additional circumstantial evidence. Mathematical talent often runs in families. Two of Jane’s brothers became admirals in the Royal Navy; in fact, the brother closest to her in age, Sir Francis Austen, rose to become Admiral of the Fleet. They could not have achieved these positions without strong abilities in mathematics. (Note: my own brother is an actuary.) 

Black and white image of Jane Austen's sailor brother

Sir Francis Austen

Jane Austen never used the term actuary, even though actuaries existed when she lived. Of course, she was writing about romance in country villages and not about insurance companies. In her six finished novels, she only uses the word mathematician on one occasion. This paragraph takes place in Emma, when Emma has witnessed an event – Mr. Frank Churchill’s rescue of Harriet Smith from a threatening mob – which she hopes will lead to romance:

Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?—How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!—especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made. (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3)

Austen’s use of the word mathematician in this passage indicates she probably had some familiarity with people who could calculate. 

Jane Austen writes both intelligently and intelligibly on many topics associated with mathematics. I do not think I am being an imaginist when I maintain that this literary genius of the early nineteenth century had a profound understanding of mathematics.

About the Author:

Photo of the author

Author, Victoria Grossack

Victoria Grossack is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and has worked for companies such as Folksamerica Reinsurance and Zurich Financial Services; she currently supplies materials for the Actuarial Bookstore. She also writes novels celebrating birds, Greek mythology, and Jane Austen. Her Jane Austen-based novels include: The Meryton Murders, The Highbury Murders, The Mansfield Park Murders and Mrs. Bennet’s Advice to Young Ladies. Her novels can be found at Amazon.

Citations:

Lodge, David, “The best stream of consciousness novels,” The Guardian, January 20, 2009.

Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Richard Bentley and Son, 1871.

Roser, Max, “Life Expectancy,” Our World in Data

Victoria’s Article in Actuarial Review entitled “Jane Austen, Actuary?” September 21, 2021: Click here to read it

Regency women went to great lengths to achieve an effortless, romantic look with long, flowing lines to their dresses and hairstyles. Even their dresses, which appeared to have little underneath, had several layers hidden below the surface. As with everything, nothing in the Regency era is quite as simple as it seems.

And behind the scenes of every genteel woman’s daily beauty regime were servants who made it all possible. Without today’s modern household appliances, a whole team of people were required to make a household run smoothly. There were servants who laundered, mended, ironed, and polished. Maids who buckled, tied, boosted, and smoothed; carried clean, hot water for bathing; and emptied bathtubs and chamber pots. Men and women cleaned, cooked, served, polished, and dusted. All so that life could go on smoothly and seamlessly.

Women in Jane Austen’s world were expected to be many things, especially when it came to their personal appearance, but what went on behind the scenes to make these women appear so effortless and graceful?

Evening dresses, fronticepiece, The Mirror of Graces,, 1811
Evening dresses

[Mr. Bingley] came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half finished, crying out:

“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown. Never mind Miss Lizzy’s hair.”

“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago.”

Oh! hang Kitty! what has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

It took time to achieve the polished look of a Jane Austen heroine; thus, I’ve also included additional links for each of the topics below for those who want to delve deeper. Let’s look behind the scenes:

Bathing

Cleanliness then wasn’t quite what it is today. Bathing only became common during the 18th century in wealthy households. In Jane Austen’s time, baths were taken once a week (more or less depending on the season) with sponge baths in between. This was usually done by sponging off with a pitcher of water and a little basin on the bedroom dresser. To bathe, people sat in a larger tub or stood in a smallish tub on the floor and washed with a pitcher of water. (The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Laurence Stone)

A portable bath shower from the mid 19th c.

Affordable soaps of the time were soft and more caustic than the soaps, lathers, and body washes we enjoy today. Firm, refined bar soaps were scented and more costly (and therefore less frequently used). As for a woman’s hair, the same soap used for the body was also used for the hair, and the hair was washed far less often than today.

Oral Health

As for dental health, tooth brushes and tooth powder were used. In Sense and Sensibility, we read this: “He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy…”

Toothpick Case, National Maritime Museum, 1806

From Austen’s own letters, we know that dentistry in her time was a grisly business:

The poor girls and their teeth! I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, and Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again, and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy, and I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp and hasty screams.

The little girls’ teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a lover of teeth and money and mischief, to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth and double it. It was a disagreeable hour.

Jane Austen’s Letters, Henrietta St., 15 Sept. 1813

The advent of modern dentistry, and the use of anesthetics, wouldn’t come until long after Austen’s lifetime. I, for one, feel much more enthusiastic about my next dental cleaning after this. For more on the topic of Regency dentistry, you can read this JAW article on Dental Hygiene in the Regency Period.

Dressing and Undergarments

For the latest fashions, women often shared patterns and new fashions. Those who had lately traveled to London or even Bath brought back descriptions, clippings, and patterns to share with their friends and family member. In Pride and Prejudice, we read this about Mrs. Gardiner’s visit: “The first part of Mrs. Gardiner’s business on her arrival, was to distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions.”

Underdrawers belonging to the Duchess of Kent, 1810-1820

As fashions evolved, so did women’s undergarments. Under their slim, empire-waisted Regency dresses made of thinner material than previous years, women wore a shift, stays, a waist petticoat, stockings, and more. With so much to lace up and buckle, women needed help getting dressed. On the topic of stays, we know that Jane wrote this to Cassandra:

I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the Bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.

Jane Austen’s Letters, September 1813

However, women did not yet wear “underwear,” drawers, or pantaloons. Drawers were considered immodest and improper, something only men wore, until the early to mid 1800s. Slowly they caught on, and by the mid-1800s they were a matter of course when hoop skirts became popular. You can find more here: Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear.

Cosmetics

In terms of cosmetics, a more natural Romantic look took hold during Austen’s life, in large part aided by the blockade during the Napoleonic Wars. Ladies were still, nevertheless, never too far from their rouge pot (Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing). Regardless of one’s complexion or skin tone, a rosy glow was part of achieving that healthy romantic look.

As for covering up body odor, deodorant was not yet used, while the perfumes of the time tended toward sweet, musky scents. To find out more about cosmetics and how they were made (many times out of materials we now know are dangerous), you can read this article: A Deadly Fashion: Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 – A Review.

Hair

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, hairstyles for women became more natural and graceful. This meant instead of powder, wigs, and elaborate updos, the natural hair color became popular again. Women wore their hair swept up into simple twists, buns, and chignons with locks of hair curled around their faces. Curling tongs and curling papers and cloths were used to create this effect.

The fashions and hairstyles all came from the Greco Roman styling that became popular during Austen’s day. You can read more here: Greco Roman Influences on Women’s Hairstyles During the Georgian Era.

Combs used as hair accessories

With the bonnets and caps used at the time, curls were used to frame the face. For evening and dinner parties, accessories such as combs and ribbons were used. Often a maid helped fix a lady’s hair each morning and before an evening dinner or party. What might look like a very natural hairstyle could take quite a bit of time to perfect beforehand. For more, you can read about Regency Hairstyles and their Accessories. Additionally, you can view Vic’s stunning Pictorial History of Regency Hairstyles.

A Look Behind the Scenes

The world of a genteel Regency woman was complex and nuanced. Next month, I’ll discuss “Privy” Matters: Regency Feminine Hygiene, Bodily Functions, and Childbirth. We’ll take an even closer, behind-the-scenes look at a genteel woman’s private life in Jane Austen’s time. All to help us understand the real-life world of carriage rides, balls, dinners, and courtship that we so enjoy in Austen’s novels.

As much as I love dressing up for a Jane Austen event, all of this information reminds me, as ever, that as romantic as everything looks in a Jane Austen film, life for women of her time was anything but simple—even for those who were part of the landed gentry.

When I’ve dressed for the ball given at past JASNA AGMs, my outer layer tends to be the most historically accurate. I’ve yet to invest in undergarments, and I usually “make do” with my own homemade hair accessories, jewelry, and ballet flats. One day, I’d like to invest in a bonnet. As one wise woman once told me at an AGM, “It takes years to build your Regency wardrobe – just take it one piece at a time.” Do you own any Regency clothing? If so, what do you enjoy wearing most? -Rachel


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Book reviewers are not supposed to reveal their thoughts until the end of their review. I am breaking that rule: I LOVED this book. 

martha-lloyd

Book Cover from Bodleian Shop

The book begins with Deirdre Le Faye’s excellent foreword, which, among many other good points, mentions how contemporary readers who belonged to the same gentry class as the Austens readily associated the family’s culinary choices to their own food preferences.

Martha’s book…was compiled for a family of the Middling Sort, as the expression was—unpretentious households of the literate and professional classes, not landed gentry and not necessarily well off.” – (p viii, Household Book)

Martha Lloyd in her own light

Julienne Gehrer’s comprehensive discussion of Martha Lloyd’s friendship with Jane Austen, her relationship with the Austen family, and her late-life marriage to Sir Francis Austen, Jane’s brother, had me mesmerized. Previously, I only had a general knowledge of Martha’s friendship with Jane, but this book placed their relationship into a clear and loving perspective. Four years after George Austen’s death in 1805 in Bath, the Austen women, with Martha in tow, moved from one rented house to another, until they settled in Chawton Cottage in 1809 on Edward Austen’s Hampshire estate. There, Martha was given a large bedroom. This must have been quite an honor!

Martha’s relationship with the Austens did not end with Jane’s death in 1817, but lasted throughout her life. Her marriage at 62 years of age finally made her an Austen in name as well as in spirit. While Gehrer describes the sisterly affection between Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd in a concise 30 pages, there is so much more to this book that is represented in that short account of their friendship. 

Historical context of Martha’s household book

In this section, Gehrer places Martha’s book in historical context.

… a lady’s household book was an essential tool for managing her home.” (p. 31)

These household books were written by the reigning ladies of the house to communicate with their cook and housekeeper. Early on they were private, not published, and described their own preferences. The books  included recipes and information they inherited from their mothers, relatives, and friends. The women felt free to copy from each other and from popular cookery books, such as Hannah Glasse’s seminal book from 1775. 

Lloyd’s contemporaries would not have known of The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman, written in 1776-1800. It remained a private household book until it was found and published in 1952. My copy from The National Trust reveals Whatman’s knowledge of housekeeping and daily oversight of her servants via her specific instructions. She married young and one can imagine that as a new bride ruling her first household, she must have clung to her mother’s and grandmother’s advice for guidance and comfort. 

Gehrer traces the evolution of these household books and their varied uses. Country or city settings influenced the information that the women included.

Household books compiled in country setting often include ‘A Cure for Mange in Horses or Dogs and the necessary for ‘the cure of the Bite of a Mad Dog’, as does Marrha’s book.” – (p. 37)

The author also gives us tips on working with period recipes, cautioning us about creative spelling during the Georgian period, common word abbreviations, and the variable quantities mentioned, such as ‘a piece of dough the size of a walnut’. Often instructions assume that the cook already knows about which preliminary steps to take or how many hours of preparation might be expected. The modern cook has no such knowledge. Gehrer also cautions:

Many original recipes, both culinary and medicinal, contain ingredients now known to be toxic and are not advised for consumption or use.” – (p. 41)

Nevertheless, many interesting historic recipes remain that can be safely followed, through which this book guides the reader.

Unique details and connections to Jane Austen in Martha’s book

Gehrer then examines why Lloyd’s household book is of such historical importance. Rosa Mary Mowll, a great-granddaughter of Francis Austen and granddaughter of his child, Edward Thomas Austen, wrote a letter to a trustee of the Jane Austen Society about the book, but failed to mention the direct Austen contributions. Her offer was not deemed important and thus this primary source wasn’t initially accepted by the Austen experts from the Society. Thankfully,  her insistence and persistence influenced better minds to prevail and helped the book find its rightful place in history.

In June 1956, Martha Lloyd’s Household Book became part of the collection at Jane Austen’s House…” – (p. 44)

A full description of the book, including missing pages, descriptions of Martha’s script (with photographic images), dates of contributions and the names of contributors are included. The book then makes direct connections to Jane Austen and the recipes in her novels, and her family’s favourite dishes and recipes. Fancy French fare and dinners for the middling sort are described.

…examples of simple and abundant country foods permeate Jane’s writing and Martha’s household book. It is easy to envision Mrs Austen’s Steventon dairy producing pails of milk, pints of cream and pounds of butter, inspiring young Jane’s food-laden ‘Lesley Castle.’” – (p. 60)

Particulars of Martha Lloyd’s household book

This section, which starts on page 67, is the piece de resistance of this book – the first facsimile publication, in color, of this notebook ever. It is followed by a complete transcription of Georgian era cursive writing, and includes detailed annotations that help the modern reader interpret the recipes in ways we can understand. A glossary, extensive notes, and bibliography are included, as well as beautifully reproduced images. 

Contrast this book to The Knight Family Cookbook from the Chawton House Press, 2014. I bought this book at the AGM in Williamsburg in 2019 in support of this important institution and do not regret its purchase, but I would love to see a reissue. The preface by Richard Knight and Introduction by Gillian Dow were a scant 7 pages, followed by a grey and black facsimile of the cookbook without a transcription of the cursive writing, which at times was hard to read or follow, making it hard to interpret the recipes. Again, my purchase went to a good cause, but for practical purposes, I could not make heads or tails of a majority of the recipes.

In conclusion

For those who are intrigued with the story of Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen, a wonderful current companion piece is the recently published Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Zöe Wheddon, which adds so much color and flavor to Martha Lloyd’s Household Book: The Original Manuscript from Jane Austen’s Kitchen. 

About the author

Julienne Gehrer is an author, journalist and food historian who lectures on Jane Austen and the long eighteenth century. Her articles have appeared in Texas Studies for Literature and Language, Jane Austen’s Regency World, and JASNA News. She is the author of several books including this one and Dining with Jane Austen (2017).

More about Martha Lloyd

Purchase the book

Gehrer, J. (2021) Martha Lloyd’s Household Book: The Original Manuscript from Jane Austen’s Kitchen (1st ed., U.K.) Bodleian Library.

UK: Bodleian Shop – Click here to order the book

US: publication August, 2021 – Click here to order the book on Amazon 

Sir Thomas More will be familiar to many of us from Robert Bolt’s stage play and 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, and from Hilary Mantel’s more recent book, Wolf Hall. For those persons who confine their reading to the six novels of a certain Georgian lady and don’t recognize his name, he was Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, under King Henry VIII. He steadfastly refused to condone Henry’s desire to break from the Catholic Church to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry’s solution was to order his execution.

 

Hover cursor over images for captions

Neither the historical record nor the dramatisations document his descendant lines to any extent, but Sir Thomas and his wife Jane Colt established a fertile line of progeny. A genealogist and descendant, the late Martin Wood, in his book The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More) [1] thought that the tally so far could number one hundred thousand. What has never been on the public record is a direct family connection between Sir Thomas and Jane Austen. The link is in the maternal line of Mrs. Austen, Cassandra Leigh, through her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Dawtrey.

George Austen and Cassandra Leigh both had some knowledge of their fathers’ ancestries but, I suspect, little of their mothers’. Cassandra was proud of her paternal lineage – her great-grandfather was the 8th Lord Chandos, her great-uncle was the first Duke of Chandos, and her distant cousin Edward Leigh was Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh. Her mother Jane Leigh (née Walker) lived with the Austens at Steventon for the last four years of her life, and the first four of their marriage. Of the Austens’ parents she was the one best known to them, and it seems safe to assume that she’d have talked about her forebears. However the current record of Cassandra’s maternal family extends back only to her great-grandmother, and it’s likely that she knew nothing of earlier generations.

Until recently I had not given Anne Dawtrey any attention – her son-in-law (and Cassandra’s maternal grandfather) John Walker, ‘Doctor of Physick at the University of Oxford,’ had both dominated and frustrated my attention. I have to report that he continues to elude not just me, but several archivists at the University of Oxford as well.

The only detail recorded for Anne, confirmed by the licence allegation for her marriage to James Perrott (dated 23 November, 1667) [2], was that she was of Petworth in Sussex. When I got round to looking, the Dawtreys revealed themselves to have been a long-established Petworth family, with additional estates in Essex and Suffolk. They were wealthy enough to leave Last Wills and Testaments that are preserved at The National Archives [3]; and bore Arms (that is, heraldic Arms), so their pedigree is recorded in the Sussex County Visitations [4]. Working through those and other sources, I was able to establish that Anne’s great-great grandfather was William Dawtrey, who had been elected MP for Sussex in 1563 and died in 1591, and that his wife was Margaret. 

Margaret’s surname had been recorded as Rogers in the Visitations; it was only on finding William’s biography in the website of The History of Parliament [5] that I learnt that she was in fact a Roper, and that she was the daughter of William Roper of Eltham, Kent. It didn’t take long to discover that this was the William Roper who had married Margaret More, the devoted daughter of Sir Thomas More. (William Roper was Sir Thomas’s first biographer; Margaret More, besides supporting her fsther during his trial, retrieved his head from the executioner; it is now interred in the Roper vault under the Chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury.)

Anne Dawtrey was a 4th-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas; Jane Austen was an 8th-great-granddaughter. While researching Jane’s maternal pedigrees I have found many very interesting ancestors, but none so surprising as Sir Thomas. The chance that she knew this is negligible! If these details have any bearing on Jane Austen herself, it’s in the way that they illustrate that her descent was through some of the most interesting people in British history.

In the preceding paragraph I wrote “none so surprising as Sir Thomas.” But here’s another detail that comes close. Sir Thomas More’s parents, Sir John More (a Judge of the Common Pleas and of the King’s Bench) and Alice Graunger, had four surviving children, of whom he was the second eldest. His youngest sibling, Elizabeth, married John Rastell, and they too established a successful line of progeny.  One of their great-grandsons was amongst the worthiest of Jane Austen’s distant cousins, the great English poet John Donne.

Hover cursor over images for captions

About the author:

Ronald Dunning is the creator of the Ancestry.com “Jane Austen Family Tree,” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!

References:

[1] The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More. Martin Wood. Gracewing, Leominster, 2008. ISBN 978 0 85244 681 2

[2] Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Harleian Society Vol. XXIII, 1886. p.142

[3] Probate Records:

William Roper, PROB 11/60/365 (in which he names his ‘daughter Dawtrey’)

William Dawtrey (d.1591) PROB 11/78/329

Sir Henry Dawtrey (d. 1646) PROB 11/196/139

William Dawtrey (d.ca 1679) PROB 11/361/238

[4] Visitations of Sussex for 1530 and 1633-4; Harleian Society, London, Vol.LIII, 1905; p.32

[5] History of Parliament Online: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/dawtrey-william-1591

Read other articles by Mr. Dunning

By Brenda S. Cox

“God grant me patience, Pray for me Oh Pray for me.” –Jane Austen’s last recorded words, from Cassandra’s letter to Fanny Knight, July 20, 1817

You probably know that Jane Austen died young, at age 41, on July 18, 1817.

What did she die of? We don’t know, but many scholars have speculated. Most of these conditions had not even been identified in Austen’s time.

Her Symptoms

From letters we learn that Austen had:

  • Fluctuating symptoms, better, worse, better, worse
  • Pain in her face (Sept. 15 and 24, 1813, exacerbated by cold air), back (Sept. 8, 1816), and knee (Feb. 21, 1817), though not much pain near the end
  • Discoloration of skin, especially face, “black and white and every wrong color” (March 25, 1817)
  • Pale skin (from her niece Caroline’s observations)
  • Recurrent fevers (March 25, April 6, 1817)
  • Sleepless nights
  • A clear mind (she wrote a poem on Winchester Races shortly before her death)
  • Fatigue, weakness, langour, often needing to lie down (May 22, 1817, as well as months before that)
  • A “Discharge” for a week, which the “applications” of a Winchester doctor alleviated (May 22, 1817)
  • A seizure near the very end; when repeated, Cassandra describes it as faintness (July 20, 1817)

Her Self-Diagnosis

What did Austen think she had? On Jan. 24, 1817, she wrote, “I am more & more convinced that Bile is at the bottom of all I have suffered, which makes it easy to know how to treat myself.” And again on April 6, “I have been suffering from a Bilious attack, attended with a good deal of fever.”

Bile is often mentioned in Austen’s letters as a source of disease for her family and friends. The liver produces bile as part of the digestive process. She implies that she has a digestive disorder.

On Feb. 21, 1817, Austen wrote, “I am almost entirely cured of my rheumatism, just a little pain in my knee now & then, to make me remember what it was, & keep on flannel.” March 26, 1817, she wrote, “I have still a tendency to Rheumatism.” So at this point she attributed her pain and weakness to rheumatism in her joints.

Contemporary Treatments

In Austen’s time, doctors considered that the “humours” in the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile, had to be in balance. In Dr. Buchan’s popular Domestic Medicine (11th ed., 1790), he writes, “Jaundice, indigestion, loss of appetite, and a wasting of the whole body” are “the consequences of a vitiated state of the liver, or obstructions of the bile” (56). 

For an intermittent fever, Dr. Buchan recommends ipecac, which will cause the patient to vomit up bile and clean out the system (150). For stomach issues caused by bile, he recommends bleeding, liquids and light foods (such as Mr. Woodhouse’s gruel), and warm baths (290-291).

For jaundice (probably what we would call hepatitis, which turns the patient’s skin and eyes yellow, from excess bile), Buchan says “numberless British herbs” supposedly cure it, but he observes that generally the disease goes away by itself, so the herbs don’t necessarily cause the cure. He goes on to recommend hempseed and several other herbs that he thinks work. He also describes other diseases as connected with bile.

John Wesley, the Methodist preacher, wrote a very popular book called Primitive Physic: Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. It went through many editions and is still available today (I bought mine at the Wesley Museum in London). His goal was to list “cheap, safe, and easy medicines” available to “plain, unlettered” people. He marked those he had tried himself. Wesley started with lifestyle recommendations, such as, eat and drink moderately, and exercise regularly. Then he gave remedies for many diseases.

For “bilious cholic” (upset stomach ejecting bile), he recommends drinking warm lemonade or taking “sweet oil.” He gives nine remedies for rheumatism, including cold baths, warm steams, and eating barley-gruel with currants, roasted apples, fresh whey, and light pudding.

We don’t know what remedies Austen might have tried for her “bile” or rheumatism.

Mr. Curtis, her apothecary in Alton, and Mr. Lyford, her doctor in Winchester, tried to cure her, but we don’t know what diagnoses they made. For some possibilities, as well as more modern ideas, see “Did Jane Austen die from Nervous Consumption on July 18, 1817?” 

Modern Theories

Many modern scholars and doctors have speculated on what might have caused Jane’s death. Here are a few of their ideas:

Addison’s disease (tuberculosis of the adrenal glands)

This theory was put forward by Sir Zachary Cope in 1964. Austen’s langour, fatigue, skin discoloration, and stomach irritability fit with Addison’s. However, her niece described her as pale, while Addison’s generally gives a tanned appearance, according to Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A Life. The National Organization for Rare Disorders says, though, that Addison’s can cause white patches and darker patches, including black freckles on the face, so that might fit. However, her clear mind and lack of pain towards the end do not fit with Addison’s, apparently.

Lymphoma, such as Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of cancer

A study in June 2005 gives Hodgkin’s Disease as a more likely diagnosis. This causes an immune deficiency. The article considers Austen’s medical history of recurrent infections, including possible conjunctivitis which gave her eye problems, typhus when she was a child, and the whooping cough she contracted as an adult. She may have had an immune deficiency and lymphoma for years. Jane Austen’s birth, a month late, could have made her more susceptible to an immune deficiency. Trigeminal neuralgia, causing her face pain exacerbated by cold, could also be associated with a lymphoma.

Tuberculosis, or consumption

Another writer, K.G. White,  suggested in 2009 that tuberculosis, or consumption, was much more widespread in Austen’s day than Addison’s, and is another possible cause of her death. It may have been a secondary infection on top of a lymphoma

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood nearly dies of an illness brought on by indulging her misery and “sitting in her wet shoes and stockings.”

 

Lupus (an autoimmune disease)

An even more recent theory claims that all Austen’s symptoms were consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus. Joint pain, skin discoloration, fever, fatigue, and fluctuating symptoms that come and go are all consistent with lupus. See “Black and White and Every Wrong Colour.” 

 

Accidental Arsenic Poisoning

The British Library suggests that Austen may have died of accidental arsenic poisoning, from arsenic in medications or the water supply. They tested three pairs of spectacles from Austen’s writing desk, which are believed to be hers. Based on the prescription strengths, the researchers speculate that she may have gotten cataracts due to arsenic poisoning. Arsenic could also have caused her facial discoloration. See Dr. Sandra Tuppen’s article  and “Jane Austen Poisoned.”

 

Breast Cancer

Another possibility is breast cancer, which Carol Shields suggests in Jane Austen: A Life (NY: Penguin, 2001), 173-174. Austen’s Aunt Philadelphia (her father’s sister) apparently died from breast cancer, and estrogen fluctuations might have caused Austen’s fevers. 

 

Typhus

Another theory is that she died of a recurrence of the typhus which almost killed her as a child, while she was in Southampton. See Linda Robinson Walker, “Jane Austen’s Death: The Long Reach of Typhus?

 

Overdose?

Helena Kelly, in Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, thinks that whatever Austen was sick with, “a dose of opiates strong enough to knock her out completely for nine hours has to have at least hastened her death” (282). The laudanum Dr. Lyford gave her may have been too high a dose, which caused her to eventually stop breathing.

 

In the end, we don’t really know what took Jane Austen away—to heaven, as her sister Cassandra strongly believed. We know she left this world before she could finish all the works we wish she might have done. But we’re thankful for those works she did complete and the legacy she left to us all.

What’s your favorite theory about what happened to our beloved Jane? Can you add any information about the possible diagnoses above?

Jane’s obituary in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal says, “Her manners were gentle, her affections ardent, her candour was not to be surpassed, and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.” (Candour at this time meant that she thought the best of people, as Jane Bennet did.) (Quoted in Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life.)

For spiritual and religious aspects of death in Austen’s novels and in her experience, see my article in Persuasions On-Line, “Preparation for Death and Second Chances in Austen’s Novels.” 

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

 

Taking a vacation—whether it’s a staycation or a trip—is all about taking a break from your everyday activities to rest, relax, and get refreshed. As things continue to reopen, it’s fun to think about ways to make the summer season special. And of course, Jane always provides me with special inspiration!

Here are a few activities you might like to try this summer, whether you prefer to keep closer to home or you are ready to set out and have an adventure. These “Jane-cation” ideas are designed to fill your cup and put a pep in your step! Most of these activities can be done virtually, with your family, or in small groups.

#1 – Take a Book Lovers Day Off

  • Clear your calendar—just like a regular vacation day
  • Plan your meals ahead of time
  • Select your books
  • Read books you want to read (not something you have to read)
  • Set up a cozy spot indoors (or create an outdoor reading nook)

Read Like Jane: Read the books Jane Austen read in her lifetime. You can select some of your titles from this list from Jane Austen in Vermont: Jane Austen’s Reading List.

Jane Austen on Reading:

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

―Mr. Tilney, Northanger Abbey

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.

―Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

If a book is well written, I always find it too short.

―Kitty Percival, “Catharine, or the Bower”
Anne Hathaway, Becoming Jane

#2 – Host a Small Garden Party

  • Plan summer fare that’s light and fresh
  • Invite guests to bring a favorite tea cup
  • Provide a selection of teas, lemonades, and sparkling waters
  • Don’t forget a pretty dessert such as Strawberry Shortcake Trifles
  • Decorate with fresh flowers, tea cups, and stacks of books tied with ribbon

Party like Jane: Ask your guests to bring fresh flowers and create your own bouquets or nosegays. You can read this JAW article about Regency bridal bouquets for inspiration. Learn how to make Georgian ices here!

Jane Austen on Parties:

Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, etc., and looked very pretty. 

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 25 April, 1811.

You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 15 June, 1808.

The Orange Wine will want our Care soon. –But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 1 July, 1808.

Strawberry Shortcake Trifles from CookingClassy.com

#3 – Plan a Picnic or Fruit-picking Excursion

  • Meet up with family or friends for a picnic
  • Explore a new park or picnic area
  • Bring a pretty basket, delicious food, drinks, and a blanket
  • Play games or provide riddles for guests
  • Try a new recipe

Picnic like Jane:
Take cushions, flowers, and other items to make it comfortable and picturesque. You can read this JAW article on Box Hill and Regency picnics. Or plan a Regency picnic menu courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre.

Jane Austen on Excursions:

We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees;—and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors—a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible.

―Mrs. Elton, Emma

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.

―Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions will make good amends for orange wine.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 20 June, 1808.

Emma, 2009

#4 – Take a Home & Garden Tour:

  • Explore a local public garden
  • Tour a historic home
  • Volunteer in a community garden
  • Revamp a corner of your own garden or patio
  • Take a gardening class

Garden like Jane: Try planting flowers like Jane might have had in her garden. Read this JAW article on Jane Austen’s garden when she was living at Chawton Cottage. Or enjoy this Pictorial Visit to Chawton by Tony Grant.

Jane Austen on Homes & Gardens:

Pemberley House . . . was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted.

―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Some of the flower seeds are coming up very well, but your mignonette makes a wretched appearance. …Our young piony [sic] at the foot of the fir-tree has just blown and looks very handsome, and the whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom. The syringas, too, are coming out. We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plums, but not many greengages—on the standard scarcely any, three or four dozen, perhaps, against the wall.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 29 May, 1811.

Two . . . hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled “The Wood Walk.” The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of “The Church Walk,” because it led to the parish church.

―James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (Description of Steventon)
Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

#5 – Take a trip to the seaside or mountains:

  • Go to the seaside
  • Drive to the mountains
  • Take a day trip
  • Rent a house or cabin
  • Camp out

Travel like Jane: Looking for something literary? Explore one of these Literary-themed Day Trips. Or check out some of the Best Literary Places to Read and Eat around the world. Want to stay closer to home? Visit your local independent bookstore, buy a book, and show your support.

Jane Austen on Travels:

A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.

―Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

What delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend!

―Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

The Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.

―Jane Austen, Persuasion

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 had intended to take them to Netley to-day; the tide is just right for our going immediately after moonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 24 October, 1808.
Lyme Regis and The Cobb (Rachel Dodge, 2007)

Wishing you all a summer filled with bookish plans, dear Jane Austen’s World readers! If you could choose any “Jane-cation” (if travel/health restrictions did not exist), where would you go?

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases later this year. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Inquiring readers, I recently wrote a post about the important but largely unseen parts servants played in Jane Austen’s novels. As I looked into the topic, animals were also mentioned. So much information exists that I decided to write about their important contributions to our understanding of Austen’s milieu.

________

In The Jane Austen Companion, the editor of the book, David Grey, wrote that Jane Austen “pays little attention to pets and animals”. Professor Susan E. Jones, who quoted Mr. Grey at the start of her JASNA article, begs to disagree. She ends her thoughts by writing:

“Austen uses her animal references to provide provocative signals and insights that would have amplified the pleasure of her text to insider readers.”

As an avid reader of Austen’s novels and letters, wherein a great deal of animals are mentioned, I agree with Professor Jones’s POV. Jane’s inclusion of animals and food might not have been given center stage, but her contemporary readers knew just what they represented when they made their appearance in her stories. The animals added dimension to her human characters and to her readers’ understanding of the scene: Their presence meant more than mere beasts of burden or as a source for food.

Screen Shot 2021-07-03 at 7.59.29 AM

Detail of the fronticepiece image for The Frugal Housewife, 1835, Internet Archive.

One passage in Emma demonstrates why only a few references to food conjured up a host of associations for Austen’s contemporary readers, and why current scholarship helps us to understand her era better. Emma suggested a menu for an early dinner for Mrs and Miss Bates and Mrs Goddard, a trio that was “always at the service of an invitation at Hartfield” (Austen, Emma).

“…with the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas, did she then do all the honours of the meal, and help and recommend the minced chicken and scalloped oysters, with an urgency which she knew would be acceptable to the early hours and civil scruples of their guests.” – Emma, Vol 1, Ch 3.

This passage provides much information about Mr. Woodhouse’s food phobias and the dishes he deemed too rich for “the digestion.” But there is more to this scene than first meets the eye.

Mrs Bates, who was “almost past everything but tea and quadrille”, and her daughter, Miss Bates, were poor due to Mr Bates’s death. Mr Elton, who replaced him as Vicar of Highbury, acquired his living. Mr Bates’s widow and daughter were instantly poor and reduced to renting rooms in town, with only a maid of all work to help them. Except for a small income, they were dependent on the beneficence of their community. They, and Mrs Goddard, the mistress of the local boarding school, were frequent visitors at Hartfield, and were invited early to play cards with Mr Woodhouse, and keep him company and partake of his food and hospitality.

Emma, who had been Hartfield’s mistress since her older sister’s marriage to Robert Knightley, and who hoped she was “not often deficient in what is due to guests at Hartfield,” arranged for this particular meal, hoping to please both her company and her exacting father. From her planned menu, Austen’s contemporaries instantly recognized the three visitors’ social and economic status. Guests belonging to the first tier of society would have been served a fresh, whole capon. Minced chicken was made with leftover chicken, and while the dish was considered delicious, Austen’s readers understood that these second tier guests had been served the remains of yesterday’s chicken (Jones).

Emma also served oysters, which are considered a specialty today. In my region, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, U.S., oysters are expensive delicacies, since their numbers have been drastically reduced by fertilizer run-offs and other pollution in the bay, but in Austen’s day, oysters were cheap and plentiful in England and served as “common fare at an inn” (Jones). They, like chicken, are a white food, whose bland color, Emma knew, suited Mr Woodhouse to a tee.

Animals in the countryside:

Pork was considered a symbol of affluence. Jane’s rich brother, Edward, kept pigs:

“In a letter to Cassandra from Steventon (1 December 1798), Jane wrote, ‘My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told…that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, [and] has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises’” (Wilkes).

In her blog post, author Sue Wilkes aptly titled an image of a fortunate pig as

“an elegant pig in an elegant pigsty.”

Emma’s gift to Mrs and Miss Bates of a whole hindquarter of a pig was generous – but to a fault. Mr Woodhouse first suggested a small, more delicate loin or leg, which Susan Jones points out was thoughtful, since the Bates’s rented accommodations were small. While Miss Bates effusively thanked Emma, she added that her mother feared they “had not a salting-pan large enough.” In the film Clueless, director Amy Heckerling had it right – Emma was oblivious in so many ways.

Growing up in the Steventon countryside, the Austens were surrounded by fields of crops, stands of woodlands, and grazing animals. “Mr Austen was entitled to graze his sheep and cows in the actual churchyard of St Nicholas if he so chose” (Le Faye, p 170). Jane mentioned in her letters the excellent quality of the Leicester sheep he had sold for profit.

“Mr Lyford gratified us very much yesterday by his praises of my father’s mutton, which they all think the finest that was ever ate.” – Le Faye, p 172

Mr Austen likely raised Southdown Sheep, a small, stocky animal, whose lambs, born in October, were ready for slaughter by Christmas. LeFaye speculated that the sheep Mr Knightley and Robert Martin (E) kept on their farms on the Donwell Abbey estate were also Southdown sheep, for they had exceptional wool and Mr Martin’s wool crop fetched a high price. Admiral and Mrs Croft (P) inspected their sheep as soon as they were settled at Kellynch Hall, an action that Sir Walter Elliot considered vastly beneath his lofty sense of self (LeFaye, 174).

Southdown Sheep-Wikimedia Commons

Southdown Sheep, Wikimedia Commons image

Working animals:

Animals in the countryside in which Austen lived sounded out familiar noises – the crowing of roosters, clucking of chickens, honking of geese, mooing of cows, neighing of horses, squealing of pigs, meowing of cats, and barking of dogs. Austen must also have intimately known their smells, their antics when they were young, and their drama from birth to death. They were part of her childhood in Steventon and formed the background for the rural locations in her novels, albeit more as indicators of a character’s status and wealth than as characters in their own right. Their literary presence marked their service of their owners who fed them.

Jane mentioned cats once in a minor quote from Mrs Jennings in Sense and Sensibility: “Lord! we shall sit and gape at one another as dull as two cats,” so I shall quickly move on to their jobs as hunters of mice and rats in barns and houses, and of moles and voles in gardens. They “earned” their living, although I am certain no child could resist the continuous litter of kittens produced by these feral creatures.

Purebred dogs specifically bred for desired features and purposes belonged largely to aristocrats and the gentry. Farmers and peasants owned more common curs. With their sensitive noses, ability to run alongside their masters for hours, loyalty, and willingness to serve and please, dogs were essential in too many jobs to count. As herders they were essential helpmeets for shepherds and drovers. As fearless terriers, they could dig any animal out of a hole, their tails providing a handy means for pulling them out of predicaments. Dogs protected livestock, barked warnings at intruders, defended their masters, pulled down large animals, acted as nanny dogs for children, etc. One suspects that many individuals who worked with dogs learned to love them more as companions than as workers, such as Willoughby, who “bred hounds for pleasure” (Shearer).

A black and white print of a hunter going out with two pointers, 1820 image.

James Barenger , 1820, Pointers. Wikimedia Commons image.

Aside from providing mankind with eggs, meat, and feathers, geese also trumpeted danger to chickens and anything and anyone within hearing distance. Austen’s mention of a goose in Emma, demonstrates the quality of Mr Martin’s excellent farm products:

“…Robert Martin raises geese because the Martin matriarch gives a fine goose to Mrs Goddard, who says it is “the finest goose[she has] ever seen” (Jones).

Animals for food:

Alderney cows played a major role for the Martin family in Emma:

“…and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow).”

Interestingly, Jane’s mother also kept Alderney cows. Mrs Austen wrote in a letter to a sister-in-law in 1773:

“I have got a nice dairy fitted up, and am now worth a bull and six cows”

Maggie Lane tells us that in 1770, Mrs. Austen had described “an Alderney cow which ‘makes more butter than we use,” which meant that any excess from their animals earned much needed income for the Austens and their large family.

In a letter to Cassandra, Jane Austen exclaimed over the value of the family cows in the sale of the family possessions [when moving from Steventon to Bath], “sixty one Guineas & a half for the three Cows…” (Jones)

The butter of Alderney cows, a small rugged Channel Island breed, was considered superb, but, sadly, these cows became extinct in WWII. There were other varieties of cows during this era that produced milk, meat, and leather, but the Alderneys were prevalent in Austen letters and in Emma.

Above,_an_Aldernay_cow;_below,_a_Westhighland_bull._Coloured_Wellcome_V0020750

Alderney cow, top image, West Highland bull, lower image. Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons via Wellcome library.

Other farm animals (still common) provided essential food and products for the Austen family, like chickens (meat, eggs, feathers), sheep (meat, wool), and goats (meat, milk.) My descriptions echo the dispassionate attitude that the Georgian era populace had until the turn of the 19th century, when attitudes changed.

Animals for transport:

Many animals, commonly known as beasts of burden,” served as “engines” for transport. In too numerous instances to count, their lives were severely shortened from hard work and harsh treatment. Horses were primarily owned by the elite because their upkeep was expensive. When Austen mentioned a carriage drawn by four horses (luxurious), or a curricle pulled by two (costly), her reading audience knew to the penny how much their maintenance cost per year. John Thorpe (NA) drove a gig pulled by one horse, which he pretended was as fine and fast as Mr Tilney’s carriage pulled by two. At the mere mention of the carriages Jane’s readers instantly knew which of the two young men had more financial resources and the faster vehicle. The way Thorpe forced his sole horse to compete with Tilney’s team of two demonstrated his ambition and cruelty. (See the Brock image on the left of John Thorpe, “Pray, pray, Stop Mr. Thorpe,” Wikimedia Commons) vs. (Henry Tilney in his carriage with Catherine on the right, “Henry Drove So Well,” Ch XX, Molland’s.)

In Sense and Sensibility, Austen demonstrated Marianne Dashwood’s recklessness with Willoughby’s gift of a horse (Queen Mab), and complete disregard of her family’s financial situation. She could only think of Willoughby’s loving present, which it wasn’t. Willoughby must have known of the family’s circumstances, and so his gesture was cruel.

“Marianne told her [Elinor], with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman. Without considering that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them, she had accepted the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.

“He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it,” she added, “and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the delight of a gallop on some of these downs.”

“Most unwilling was she to awaken from such a dream of felicity to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and for some time she refused to submit to them. As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for HIM; he might always get one at the park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. Elinor then ventured to doubt the propriety of her receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so lately known to her. This was too much.”

Because of this expensive gift, Elinor assumed that the pair had entered into a secret engagement.

In another example of Austen’s use of an animal to demonstrate character, she shows Edmund’s interest in Mary Crawford by allowing her to ride Fanny Price’s gentle pony. He had first obtained it for his cousin for her health, which blossomed with a daily ride. Then Mary Crawford expressed her desire to learn to ride, and Edmund, losing his head, gave her free rein to use Fanny’s pony.

“The ensuing spring deprived [Fanny] of her valued friend, the old grey pony; and for some time she was in danger of feeling the loss in her health as well as in her affections; for in spite of the acknowledged importance of her riding on horse-back, no measures were taken for mounting her again…”

Ignored by her most supportive cousin, Fanny’s aunts took advantage of the circumstances and employed her to run errands for both of them, which tired her excessively. Edmund soon noticed that Fanny looked ill and realized that his insensitivity to her situation and that his interest in Mary had contributed to his cousin’s ill health. He swiftly returned the pony for her daily rides. Without much exposition, Austen introduced this subplot with a pony at its center to point out her characters’ motivations, their actions and the consequences.

Other modes of transportation:

Not many people could afford to purchase or maintain horses. Drays and heavy wagons drawn by teams of mules and oxen pulled heavy loads over rutted roads or provided transportation for groups of people with fewer means. Donkey and pony carts could carry two adults, and goat carts could carry one woman or two children. Dogs pulled carts for small children or pulled specialized vehicles alongside their working masters.

We know that the Austen women used a donkey cart to get around. Today it can still be seen in Chawton Cottage, now a museum.

donkey cart-JA House Chawton-PhoebeZu

The donkey cart, Jane Austen House Museum (Chawton Cottage), taken by Phoebe Zu.

Animals as pets:

This last category is short, for in the early 19th century animals were largely used for work. The aristocracy and gentry, however, were another matter, as my pinterest board, “Regency Pets and Animals,” attests. The paintings depict dogs, horses, cats, and birds, etc. held by their owners. Many of the horses and dogs were signs of wealth and consequence.

Pinterest board of Georgian pets

Rabbit, pugs, cats, dogs, bird cage, and a man with his thoroughbred. Vic’s Pinterest Board. A majority of the paintings and illustrations depict adults and children from the upper classes.

The pug in Mansfield Park is the only pet fully described in a Jane Austen novel. It too was used to show character, as well as sloth and indolence.

Detail of pug-Molland's

Detail of a Brock image of Lady Bertram, pug, and Fanny as an infant. Molland’s.

“To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister.”

Pugs, first bred in China and brought to The Netherlands by the Dutch East India Company, became a favorite animal of William of Orange and his wife Mary, who introduced the small dog to England in the 17th century, where its popularity took off.

When Henry Crawford took notable interest in Fanny, Lady Bertram became quite talkative:

“No, my dear, I should not think of missing you, when such an offer as this comes in your way. I could do very well without you, if you were married to a man of such good estate as Mr. Crawford. And you must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this.”

This was almost the only rule of conduct, the only piece of advice, which Fanny had ever received from her aunt in the course of eight years and a half. It silenced her. She felt how unprofitable contention would be…”

Lady Bertram was convinced that Henry Crawford fell in love with her at the ball, where she looked remarkably well (even Sir Thomas said so).

And you know you had Chapman to help you to dress. I am very glad I sent Chapman to you. I shall tell Sir Thomas that I am sure it was done that evening.” And still pursuing the same cheerful thoughts, she soon afterwards added, “And I will tell you what, Fanny, which is more than I did for Maria: the next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy.”

This speech must have exhausted Lady Bertram, for it was the first time she showed such deep emotion and enthusiasm on any topic, or affection towards another person. That she was willing to give Fanny one of Pug’s precious puppies spoke volumes.

Conclusion:

Most of Austen’s contemporary readers experienced first-hand the life and death roles that animals played in their lives. When reading her novels, they could use this knowledge to fill in the blanks that Austen, an author not known for detailed descriptions, assumed they knew. Today’s readers do not have this luxury. For example, take this statement from Sue Wilkes, which describes the different ways in which rich and poor treated each other regarding property and food:

“Rich landowners … had hothouses for growing tender fruits like grapes, nectarines and peaches. In season, they also enjoyed game from their estates. The Knight family sent game to the Austens from Godmersham. The killing of game by using dogs or a gun was restricted by law to members of the landed gentry, providing they owned estates worth at least £100 p.a., or leased land worth at least £150 p.a. Although the countryside was plentifully stocked with fish and game, a poor man who helped himself to a hare or salmon to feed his family faced jail or transportation.”

Details like these enrich our knowledge of the era and our understanding of novels written at that time. Austen’s ways of incorporating the roles that animals represented in her stories without burdening us with too many details was simply genius.

Additional resources:

Books

Grey, J.D. (1986) The Jane Austen Companion (with A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works by H. Abigail Bok (U.S.). Macmillan Publishing Company.

LeFaye, D. (2014) Jane Austen’s Country Life (1st ed., U.K.) Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Online information

Jones, S.E. (2016) “Oysters and Alderneys: Emma and the Animal Economy,” (Vol 37, No. 1) Persuasions Online, JASNA. URL downloaded 7/2/21: http://jasna.org/publications-2/persuasions-online/vol37no1/jones/

Knowles, R. (2019) “Curricles, gigs and phaetons in the Regency,” Regency History. URL downloaded 7/2/21: https://www.regencyhistory.net/2019/07/curricles-gigs-and-phaetons-in-regency.html

Sanborn, V. (2010) “Pugalicious: The Pug in Mansfield Park and the 19th Century,” Jane Austen’s World. URL downloaded 7/1/21: https://janeaustensworld.com/2010/02/16/pugnacious-the-pug-in-mansfield-park-and-the-19th-century/

Shearer, E. (2017) “Animals in Jane Austen’s novels,” Eliza Shearer. URL downloaded 6/30/21: https://elizashearerblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/animals-in-jane-austen/

Sullivan, M.C. (2000) “The Curricle,” Tilneys and Trapdoors. URL downloaded 7/1/21: http://www.tilneysandtrapdoors.com/cult/curricle.html

Wilkes, S. (2015) “Down on the Farm,” A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England. URL downloaded 7/2/21: https://visitjaneaustensengland.blogspot.com/2015/07/down-on-farm.html

Detail of image, fronticepiece, Mrs. Child, (1835) The Frugal Housewife (15th Ed. U.K.)

 

George Austen as a Father

Inquiring readers: WordPress has changed its editor, and I am still wrestling with the changes, especially on different computers – Mac and Android. You can see it in the changes in spacing and font. I am also experiencing internet connectivity problems. For these reasons, this post is published 4 days later than I intended. When we celebrated Father’s Day in the U.S., I thought of my beloved father and of his dry wit, which influenced my love for Austen and her novels (especially of Mr Bennet’s comments in Pride and Prejudice that reminded me of my father’s droll, but gentle humor). As I pondered the connection, I asked: “How did Jane Austen’s father influence her writing?” Here is my very short analysis.

Jane Austen was born on December 16th in 1775 on a bitter cold day in Steventon, a village in Hampshire. One day after her birth, her father, the village’s pastor, wrote a family member about his 7th child (out of 8) and second daughter:

“You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy* certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We now have another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy** and a future companion. She is to be Jenny…” (Lane, 63). (*His wife, Cassandra; **His daughter.)

George Austen

One senses a father’s pride in the tone of this letter, as well as George Austen’s pleasure that Cassy, the only girl among his six children, and almost three years older than *Jenny*, would have a sister as a playmate. 

Reverend George Austen baptized his new daughter on December 17th in his home, as he had done with his other children. While Mrs Austen rested during her lying in, he wrote notes announcing the birth to friends and acquaintances. As far as we know, this was the last time that he called his newborn Jenny.  On April 5th, baby Jane was formally christened in St. Nicholas church. She was named after her godmother; her two aunts – Mrs Cooper and Mrs Leigh Perrot – and her maternal grandmother. 

Despite the high infant mortality rate during this era, the Austens sent their babies to “a good woman at Deane” three months after their births. This custom was commonly practiced at that time.  Cassandra Austen visited her babies daily in the nearby village, until they returned to the family fold at around 18 months of age. The reasons for this custom can be found in the following article on Breast Feeding in the Early 19th Century on this blog. 

A loving father and mother:

George and his wife were equally hard working parents who provided a stable and often joyful childhood for their children, except perhaps for the physically disabled George, who might have suffered from epilepsy. (His condition is more fully discussed in this article by Geri Walton: Jane Austen’s Disabled Brother George Austen. 

Early childhood and an education at home

Once the infants were returned to Steventon Parsonage, the parents took over raising their children. By all accounts, the Austen family was close-knit. After baby Jane’s return to the family fold, her parents’ teachings and examples during her formative years modeled intellectual, creative, and practical activities in a comfortable home and rural setting. 

“She was apparently a tomboy as a child, preferring to play cricket and roll down hills with her brothers than play ‘girls’ games, much like the character of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.” (Ivins, p 2.)

Book cover with image of a family with two parents and six childrendancing, with carpet rolled up and one of the girls playing piano.

Mrs Hurst Dancing book cover from Amazon books. The image shows a family of 8 dancing inside a drawing room, with the carpets rolled up.

Many facts exist about the timeline of Rev George Austen’s life, but what was his relationship with his family, and, in the interest of this article, with his famous daughter?  From an early age, George Austen led a hard-scrabble life. He lifted himself up through extraordinary intelligence and industry.  

Young Jane and her sister learned about history, literature, and the classics from their father and brothers. George’s library consisted of 500 volumes, an enormous (and expensive) number for a mere country parson. Shades of Mr Bennet! The library contained both classical books and novels, the latter of which were first frowned upon by academics and traditionalists, but were read with enjoyment by the Austen family. 

“…most of [the sisters’] education was undertaken privately at home, where their father, Reverend George Austen, supplemented his clerical income by taking boy pupils as boarders. It is likely that the Austen sisters benefited from their father’s library and from his informal instruction. We do not know whether or not they also sat in on any of the boys’ classes.” – Sutherland, British Library

Boarding school and “formal” education:

Jane and Cassandra acquired some formal education, although there were no expectations that their education would be as rigorous as their brothers’.

“In 1782 at the age of 7 Jane Austen went to school for the first time. Theories [conjecture] that she wanted to go to school because her elder sister Cassandra was being sent to Mrs Cawley’s school in Oxford to accompany their cousin Jane Cooper who was being sent there.” – Jane Austen Went to School

In 1783, Jane, Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper caught an infectious disease spread by troops returning to Southampton. The three became quite ill. Jane Cooper sent a letter about the situation to her parents, who informed the Austens. Alarmed, Mrs Austen and Mrs Cooper immediately traveled to the school to retrieve their daughters. Mrs Austen nursed Jane back to health, but sadly Mrs Cooper caught the disease and died from it.

In the following three years, Jane and Cassandra continued their education at home. Then, when Jane was ten, the girls set off again to school, one that seemed similar to Jane’s description of Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma:

“Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a school — not a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned boarding school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs. Goddard’s school was in very high repute, and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands.”

The school Jane and Cassandra attended between the spring of 1785 and December of 1786 was the Abbey School in Reading (remarkably still a girl’s school today https://theabbey.co.uk), where the curriculum included writing, spelling, French, history, geography, needlework, drawing, music and dancing – subjects that were considered essential for a girl’s education during the girls’ formative years to prepare them for attracting a husband and running a household. Few roads for women in Austen’s time led to higher education, travel abroad, or a career.

Unlike most of their female contemporaries, Jane’s and Cassandra’s education did not stop when they returned to Steventon. In fact, they were exposed to a wider variety of topics, subjects, and intellectual skills than they would have encountered in boarding schools. In addition:

“[Jane] was not denied “unladylike” material; she mentioned Henry Fielding’s bawdy novel Tom Jones in one of her letters and wrote that the Austen family were “great novel readers and not shamed of being so.” – Sullivan, (p180).

Early writing

Jane wrote her Juvenilia between 12 – 18 years of age as “gifts to her family” (Ivins). She frequently read these short, hilarious pieces of fiction to her siblings, parents, and friends. An early draft of Pride and Prejudice (First Impressions) was a particular favorite of her audience and remained so for years. Importantly, Rev. Austen encouraged her writing. In later years Cassandra recalled Jane reading from Elinor and Marianne (later Sense and Sensibility) before 1796. These carefree times in the Austen family’s social lives were filled with laughter, games, riddles, plays, readings, and intellectual discussions.

“…the relationship of Jane Austen with her own father seems, from what remains of her correspondence, to have been a good one. John Halperin characterizes him as a gentle, scholarly man, a good teacher and an excellent classical scholar. It was he who gave his daughter her literary education, and he who took sufficient interest in her work to offer her first novel to a publisher.” (Gibbs).

Despite their loving relationship, Austen’s six major novels described deeply flawed fathers with a variety of issues: Sir Walter Elliot was a snob and a spendthrift (P); Mr Woodhouse was a fearful hypochondriac whose neediness bound his youngest daughter to their home (E); General Tilney, another snob, was a truly nasty man all around (NA); and Mr Henry Dashwood (SS) left the financial fate of his second wife and daughters to the mercy of his weak-willed son and heir for lack of planning and foresight. 

Sir Thomas Bertram’s fathering skills in Mansfield Park were more nuanced. While he wasn’t a model father, his understanding and insights changed. The growth of his character is one of many reasons why Mansfield Park is considered by many to be Jane’s masterpiece.

I have reserved Mr Bennet (PP), for last. When I was fourteen his character delighted me – his witticisms, his criticisms of his silly wife and three younger equally silly daughters, and his close relationship with Jane and Elizabeth, who I adored, all had my approval. But then I grew up and saw him in a different light.

In my mature years I saw a man whose wit and sarcasm hid an underlying cruelty. He was a husband who made fun of his wife; who favored two daughters above three others; a man who bought extremely expensive books, but who failed to set a portion of that expense aside for future investments for his wife and daughters. I now see a man who retreated from daily reality and, for all his intellectual curiosity, was generally lazy. 

Even after Mr Wickham compromised his daughter, Lydia, and after Mr Darcy did everything in his power to rectify the situation, including providing the shameless couple with a yearly income, Mr Bennet quipped to Elizabeth:

“I admire all my three sons-in-law highly,” said he. “Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.”

That statement put the nail in the coffin to my youthful admiration of this father. 

George Austen’s support:

George Austen was proud of all his children. He actively supported Jane’s talents as a writer and encouraged her from childhood and on. In a letter to publisher Thomas Cadell, Jr., who was a partner in the firm that had published Fanny Burney’s novels, he proposed to submit her completed manuscript of First Impressions. George’s letter, written in November, 1797, offered “A Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina.” Cadell, Jr. returned the letter unopened, and so the manuscript languished for 16 years.

Edward’s gift, and the fortuitous consequences of Cadell’s rejection:

George Austen’s sudden death in Bath on 21 January 1805, when Austen was nearly 30, placed his female family in uncertain circumstances. All the brothers, except for George, contributed enough funds towards their mother’s and sisters’ upkeep to relieve some of their financial burdens. Nevertheless, Jane’s creative writing suffered as her female family sought a permanent place to land after George’s death. In 1809, the group found a permanent home in Chawton Cottage, a house that Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Leigh, had refurbished for them.

Black and white pen and ink drawing of the cottage by Ellen Hill

Chawton Cottage by Ellen Hill

The move to Chawton Cottage created a perfect storm of creativity and success for Jane. Thanks to Edward, she returned to the rural countryside she loved, and once again her talent and creativity flourished. First on her to-do list was to rewrite Sense and Sensibility. A publisher had not rejected this manuscript and she sensed its commercial value. After its modest success, she turned to her other novel, First Impressions, the family favorite which had languished unpublished. We have no way of knowing how often Jane revised this beloved story, which, like Sense and Sensibility, started out as an epistolary novel. What we do know is that the finished product, renamed Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813), was well received. The book retains its literacy rock star status to this day.

I have no doubt that George Austen’s unshakable faith in Jenny’s brilliance as an author contributed to her success. His gift was his consistent confidence and encouragement in nourishing her spectacular talent. Well done, George!

______

Articles from this blog:

Online Articles

Gibbs, C. (1986) Absent Fathers: An Examination of Father-Daughter Relationships in Jane Austen’s Novels (Persuasions #8. JASNA. PDF Downloaded 6/26/21: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number8/gibbs.pdf

Sutherland, K. (2014) Female education, reading and Jane Austen, British Library. URL Downloaded 6/26/21: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/female-education-reading-and-jane-austen

Books

Grey, J.D. (1986) The Jane Austen Companion (with A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works by H. Abigail Bok (U.S.). Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lane, M. (1997) Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations (Paperback reprint (U.K.) St. Edmundsbury Press, Ltd.

Hannon, P. (2007) 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen: The Truth About the World’s Most Intriguing Literary Heroine (U.S.). Fall River Press.

Ivins, H. (2010) The Jane Austen Pocketbook Bible (1st ed. U.K.). Crimson Publishing.

Mingay, G & Sperling, D. (1981) Mrs Hurst Dancing And Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823 (U.K.). Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Sullivan, M.C. (2007) The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England (U.S.). Quirk Books.

https://www.amazon.com/Hurst-Dancing-Scenes-Regency-1812-1823/dp/0312551290

 

I had the great pleasure of “meeting” Zöe Wheddon, author of Jane Austen’s Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd, online earlier this year. Her book immediate caught my eye because I’ve always been intrigued by the friendship between Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd. (You can read my book review here.) We started to chat and instantly hit it off. She’s a kindred spirit for sure!

The following is my interview with Zöe about her writing process, her thoughts on friendship, and some of her favorite highlights from her research for Jane Austen’s Best Friend. Zöe grew up and lives in Austen’s Hampshire countryside, and I think you’ll enjoy her unique perspective.

Question: What was it about Jane and Martha’s friendship that intrigued you and what inspired you to write this book?

Answer: I had been reading lots of biographies about Jane Austen following taking part in the Basingstoke Book Bench Art Trail to commemorate the bicentenary of her death and I was volunteering at Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House, at Chawton in Alton. Martha just seemed to pop out of her bedroom one day and say hello to me. I was so compelled to find out more when I discovered that Martha had lived with Jane for such a long long time. It struck me as a rare and poignant position that she held within the household, a quiet yet fundamental person in Janes’ circle, someone very close knit with her but who was not a blood relative. I had to know more about this person – I knew she must have been pretty special for Jane to keep her so close and for so long. I was so surprised to learn that there was nothing much written about Martha and the more I researched the more amazed and intrigued I became.  I was delighted to learn that this lovely lady had been there for Jane and it honestly made me so happy to find out about the different elements of their friendship, I just had to find out more.

Question: Can you tell us about some of the ways Martha impacted Jane’s life as a woman and as a writer? Why did Jane and Martha have such a strong bond?

Answer: Jane met Martha at an important time in her life, she was fresh back from boarding school and turning 13, when Martha moved into the neighbourhood. 10 years older than Jane, she was a breath of fresh air, with that curious mixture of sense and sense of humour and the pair became thick as thieves. I think that Martha and Jane were kindred spirits who brought out the best in one another. The fact that they had so much in common helped, but that they both wanted to explore their talents and creative ideas also drew them closer together. They were the type of best friends that shared that special and unique blend of being able to encourage each other and also, at the same time, to not let each other off the hook. Their strongest bond was their shared Christian faith which meant so much to them both in terms of identity but their sense of humour was the glue that held them together. 

Question: Describe your research process for this book. What were some of your personal highlights?

Answer: I started by reading all of Jane’s letters and looking for any reference to Martha and her family – we don’t have many of Jane’s letters left, for as we know her sister Cassandra burnt them all, which was an Austen family tradition, but we have quite a few either written to Martha or talking about her. I loved the humorous side eye that Jane gave Martha in them – I felt as if I was listening in on one of their private conversations.

I also read lots of family diaries, including the pocket books that belonged to Martha’s sister Mary and family Wills and letters. I truly love being in an archive, as it is thrilling to open up original documents that are hundreds of years old.

I also visited lots of significant places in Martha’s life. I was struck at how the scenery and landscape of their shared Hampshire experiences reflected that of Jane’s novels. It was so incredible to go back to different locations and see what is left too. Sometimes there was a whole building or church, albeit extended and amended, sometimes there was one simple entrance tower, as in the case of the church where Martha married Francis Austen, and sometimes there was a housing estate built right on top – How I would have loved to have seen the real Portsdown Lodge.

I also did lots and lots of reading and spent many hours curled up on the floor in my local library or typing away in a coffee shop. Reading and researching and then heading back out on their trail and discovering different elements that still existed was a huge thrill. Visiting Martha’s grave was very special, to trace her life from start to finish and to marvel at all she had experienced was humbling.

I started out being very envious of Martha, being Jane’s best friend, but by the end of my journey, I was pretty envious of Jane – Martha was one amazing lady.

Question: How have your friendships shaped your life and why do you think close friendships are so important?

Answer: Like Jane Austen, I too have a small circle of friends, and it is a cliché to say it, but my husband, Matt, who I have been married to for 30 years really is my best friend. We have grown up together, having got married quite young at 19 and 21 respectively. There is something so lovely about having so many memories and in jokes and that sort of short hand that best friends have. I have another special friend who goes back years too, and the best thing is that it doesn’t matter if we don’t see each other for a while – we just seem to pick up where we left off, which is lovely. I also have a friend with whom I can keep everything real, we know we can tell each other how we are truly feeling and that we will be understood, without any judgement. I think everyone needs at least one friend that they know they can call in the middle of the night or the middle of an emergency – knowing that they are in your corner helps keep us sane.

Question: What has your experience been growing up and living in Jane Austen’s Hampshire?

Answer: My grandparents lived in Overton, a village just next door to Jane Austen’s Steventon and I visited often as a child. I feel so lucky to be able to relate to the settings and the countryside in Jane’s novels, as they always seem like another character in themselves to me, and through this shared experience, I have always felt such a personal and profound connection to Jane Austen. Locally we are so proud of Jane. For the bicentenary of her death the town commissioned a statue of her, to be placed in the market square, just outside the Town Hall and opposite where she is believed to have danced at local balls. Knowing that she lived and moved and had her being in the same places as I do has always felt magical.

In fact, the reason I started researching Martha Lloyd in the first place was after taking part in an Art Trail of Book Benches scattered across the local Hampshire area; at sites Jane visited, stayed at and lived in. Each bench was designed and painted by a local artist. (See photo below of me sitting on the one outside St. Nicholas’ Church in Steventon.) This experience plunged me into a reading frenzy. I read every biography of Jane that I could get my hands on. As I read more, I started volunteering at Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House and I kept hearing Martha’s name mentioned here and there.  I spotted her in my mind’s eye, on the edge of this special family group. I imagined what that must have felt like, and so I started following her – I had to know more. I felt that Martha might be able to teach me something about Jane that other biographers could not. Thrillingly, I was right.

Question: Do you continue to visit the Jane Austen sites often? 

Answer: I visit Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House on a regular basis, as often as I can and at least twice a year, because they feel like such special places. Truly. With just a short, 45-minute drive I can be walking where Jane walked, taking in the views which are fundamentally unchanged from when she gazed upon the same verdure. I just love it.

Question: When did you start reading Austen?

Answer: I started reading Austen at the age of about 9. I remember being intrigued by a set of books with such long and unusual titles. I loved the alliteration ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ and even though I didn’t really know what they meant, they seemed so enigmatic to me. I wish I still had those copies.

Question: Do you feel as though being a “Hampshire girl” yourself has given you special insight into Austen’s life?

Answer: I have always felt deeply rooted in Hampshire; I love that I have the same feeling of ‘home’ there that Jane and Martha did. Researching the book and venturing out into the local environs, I tangibly felt their strong bond weaved within their shared environment and surroundings. They both adored walking, getting out and about, exploring and enjoying the natural world. To a large extent time stands still when you are out in the countryside and it is a privilege that as a Hampshire girl one can feel closer to them there, out in the fields, than anywhere else. 


Thank you to Zöe for taking the time to answer my questions! I’m sure you can now see why I was interested in this book and in knowing more about Zöe’s life and writing. It’s especially lovely to read a book about our beloved Jane that is written from the viewpoint of an author who is a Hampshire girl herself. -Rachel


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A native of Jane Austen’s beloved county of Hampshire, Zöe Wheddon lives in a North Hampshire village, on the outskirts of the town that she and her husband Matt both grew up in, with their 3 grown up children and their cat Leia. When she is not researching or writing, Zöe can be found in the classroom teaching Spanish and French or singing ABBA songs loudly in her kitchen. People can get to know her better at www.zoewheddon.co.uk.

Zoe Wheddon, Author

SOCIAL MEDIA

Instagram – Zoe_Wheddon
Website – www.zoewheddon.co.uk
Twitter – @ZoeWheddon
Facebook – @authorzoewheddon


ABOUT THE BOOK

JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD is a heart-warming examination of the ‘recipe for friendship’ between Jane Austen, (with whom all Janeites are best friends in their imaginations,) and Martha Lloyd. In looking back somewhat longingly at Martha and Jane’s strong and enduring bond we can examine all their interests, including the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their family histories, their lucky breaks and their girly chats.

Through an examination of the defining moments of their shared lives together, the book gives readers an insight into the inner circle of the famously enigmatic and private authoress and the life changing force of their friendship.

All fans for Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that. JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. Each chapter details fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.

Available in the USA with Pen and Sword/Casemate.

PURCHASE LINKS:


Amazon (US)
Barnes and Noble (US)
Bookshop.org (UK)


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases later this year. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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