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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“Trusting providence [God] seemed to lead to trusting people, as well. How differently the world appeared, when one stopped cringing away from it and faced it in the light.”—Fanny Bertram in The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery? Gather a large group of unconnected people for an English house party at a manor house. There should be one member of the party who is hated by all, though each has his or her own reasons. Snow them in or otherwise disconnect them from civilization, and the nasty one of course gets murdered (in the middle of the night while somehow most people are wandering around the house). Then an incompetent policeman tries to figure it out, and one or two members of the group actually uncover “whodunnit,” at great danger to themselves.

Now in this fun cozy mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray, the manor house belongs to George and Emma Knightley. Their guests are some of our favorite people—Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, Anne and Frederick Wentworth, and Fanny and Edmund Bertram. Each has a plausible reason for being there. Of course, Wickham also shows up, and he gets himself deservedly killed (the title told you this already).

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray, is a fun cozy mystery starring many of our favorite Jane Austen characters.

Frank Churchill, local magistrate, is the incompetent sleuth (with a flirtatious daughter). The Darcys’ oldest son (who we can see is mildly autistic) and the Tilneys’ teenage daughter try to solve the mystery, while not transgressing propriety any more than absolutely necessary–sort of.

Well, all that would have sold me on the book already. It’s also beautifully written and consistent with Austen’s characterizations. Gray has even postulated dates for each novel’s events and given the characters appropriate ages (though she’s made Sense and Sensibility rather late, apparently in order to make Marianne and Brandon newlyweds, which is fine).

Now, the stresses of Wickham’s dastardy toward each family, and then the suspicions aroused by his murder, awaken marital tensions in each couple. (The Darcys are also grieving the death of a loved one, and Fanny is keeping a secret.) So we get to see each pair struggling to communicate better, and growing in their marriage relationship. To me, the most interesting couple is Fanny and Edmund, whose conversations deal with deeper issues of judgment, mercy, and family loyalty.

Of course there is also a delightful budding romance between Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney. After a rocky start, Juliet is very accepting of Jonathan’s quirks. When he tells her that when he gets overwhelmed, he rocks back and forth, she says she would not mind that. She adds, “It is peculiar, of course, . . . but my mother has often told me that most people are really very peculiar, once you get to know them. The only difference is in how well we hide our peculiarities. Your habit seems harmless.”

By the way, Juliet’s mother, Catherine Tilney, is not in this story. But we’re told she has become a successful novelist. A hint to Claudia: I’d like to meet Catherine in another story . . .

In the story, Wickham, the charming rogue, has deceived various characters into investing in a false scheme and stolen their money, which is quite plausible. (It seems less likely that after this has been revealed, he’s still legally able to force them to give the money they promised him.) We’re also not surprised that when he discovers a compromising letter, he steals it and holds it for ransom. (Whether that letter would have been written and mailed around the world through various hands in the first place seems less likely to me.) All this fits Wickham’s character very well. And his final demise is appropriate.

If you enjoy mysteries and sequels to Jane Austen, I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham to you. I loved being with all these characters again for an extended time. The themes are good, and the ending is satisfying. Great summer reading!

See Claudia Gray’s website for more on her wide range of books.  

Brenda S. Cox blogs at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England should be out this fall, Lord willing.

As the entire world mourned the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II this last two weeks, I have spent time honoring her life and reign, learning more about her personality and leadership, and watching countless hours of television coverage.

I was home on September 8, 2022 and watching the news, as I had heard the reports of her health failing. When her death was announced and the national anthem played, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing; it was so surreal.

Once reality set in, I found myself weeping.

Her Majesty, the Queen

The Queen was a beautiful lady in every respect, a wonderful wife and mother, and an exemplary queen. And though I honor her role as the Queen of England, I most admire her character, her steadfastness, and her strong faith.

The beautiful sight of a double rainbow over Buckingham Palace just before her death was announced, and the sound of the crowd outside the Palace singing “God Save the Queen” right after, brought immense joy to my heart. Her life meant so much to so many people.

Photo: Yahoo!News

Days of Remembrance

Her Majesty’s funeral was quite touching, as were the many other events and processions leading up to it, especially the Vigil held by her grandchildren.

Vigil at Westminster Hall

I watched the funeral processional and funeral service on television and read the Committal program. As I read and listened, I greatly admired the thoughtful prayers, Bible verses, and songs that were selected. Everything was quite fitting for such an honorable woman of such deep conviction.

The Committal Program

Her Life

Like many of you, I enjoy exploring the many biographies, movies, miniseries, and documentaries about the Queen, the history of the House of Windsor, and the Royal Family. I think that we honor people best when we spend time finding out more about their lives, experiences, and history.

Below are a few of my all-time favorites. There are countless others to explore.

The Queen (2006)

The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, is a 2006 British film that depicts the events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Initially, the Queen and Royal Family regarded Diana’s death as a private affair and thus not to be treated as an official royal death, in contrast with the views of then Prime Ministry Tony Blair and Diana’s ex-husband, Prince Charles (now King Charles III), who both favored an official, public expression of grief.

WAYS TO WATCH

The Crown (2015)

As most of you probably know, The Crown is a fascinating and resplendent Netflix television series that follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century.

IMDB Trivia: “The series is one of the most expensive television series ever made. Each episode is budgeted at £5 million and it had already been commissioned for two seasons, with the intention of four more, before the first episode had even been completed, or any episode broadcast.”

WAYS TO WATCH

The Royal House of Windsor (2017)

Drawing on newly available evidence, The Royal House of Windsor, an epic Netflix series, explores the Windsor dynasty’s gripping family saga, providing fresh insights into how our royal family have survived four generations of crisis.

I have watched this series twice, as so much of it was absolutely fascinating to me and my family. There was so much that we did not know about the Windsor family that helped connect many dots for us.

WAYS TO WATCH

Listed below are several lists of other documentaries, films, and television series you might be interested in watching:

Biographies on Queen Elizabeth II

There are, of course, dozens of books you can read about the Queen, her life, her family, and her reign. I love reading biographies, but I have yet to read one about Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve been perusing these lists, in order to select 1-2 biographies I’d like to read:

The biography I’ve had in my Amazon cart for quite some time is The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace, and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown by Dudley Delffs because I have always admired and been curious about the Queen’s personal faith.

Book Description: “Discover the inspiring spiritual legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Sharing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of this notoriously private monarch, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth features intimate stories and inspiring reflections on the personal faith behind the Crown.”

Life and Legacy

If, like me, you enjoy learning more about Britain’s current Royal family and British history as a whole, I hope that this commemoration of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s life has been meaningful. Please comment below with your favorite shows, biographies, and resources so we can all learn more about her life and legacy. Finally, please share what Queen Elizabeth’s life and reign have meant to you.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her new book The Secret Garden Devotional releases October 31. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Gentle Readers, This review discusses an historical novel based on one of Jane Austen’s least admired characters, Mary Bennet. Katherine Cowley manages to keep my interest in the growth of Mary in her self-confidence and talents.

The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception is Katherine Cowley’s third installment of a series of five books based on Mr and Mrs Bennet’s middle daughter. Cowley, in her three published novels, has captured Mary’s qualities and mannerisms, as well as her vulnerability and insecurities. In three novels Mary’s been transformed from a character living in the shadows of her vivacious sisters to a woman with the daring and tenacity of a spy. The background of the three novels is the Napoleonic Wars. 

Covers of Katherine Cowley's first three books

In the first novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, we met Mary sitting by her father’s deathbed alone at night. During this sad time, she anticipated a life of silent misery under the rule of her widowed mother. In the early hours someone knocks on the door. Enter Lady Trafford and her nephew Mr Withrow. Claiming to be a distant relation, she invites Mary to visit her in a castle along the shores of the Sussex Coast. Lady Trafford sees a silent strength in Mary and recognizes her isolation from her family, and her patience, and accurate observations. After a time as her guest, she invites Mary to become a spy and promises to train her. 

Author Katherine Cowley astutely endears the reader to Austen’s Mary, while pointing out the skills that this middle sister learned as she lived in her sisters’ shadows, for Mary’s strength as a spy lies in her natural state of invisibility. She’s a nobody. Anonymous and unnoticed. Therefore, she’s the perfect spy. She’s also a stickler for keeping copious and accurate notes. 

Oh, Mary’s still self-deprecating and annoyingly awkward, but these traits are familiar to the Austen reader. Her transformation as a double agent and her release from dependency on her family as an unmarried female makes sense. (Read my review of the novel in this link.)

In book two of the series, entitled The True Confessions of a London Spy, Mary travels to London to ostensibly visit the Darcys, who are residing in their splendid London townhouse. We see this couple through Mary’s eyes. Better yet, her younger sister Kitty is visiting as well, as is Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Cowley’s descriptions of Mary’s interactions and perceptions with her relatives and acquaintances are developed in a satisfying way.  

In True Confessions Mary must wend her way to follow Mr Darcy’s strict rules for single female visitors to his house and the freedom she needs to spy on an assortment of gentlemen, one of whom is suspected of murder. The author writes a fascinating account of our revisit with a beloved Austen couple along with Mary’s growing self-awareness and as a spy. Better yet, Mary receives her first proposal!  In this novel the reader discovers that while Mary does not regard herself as particularly beautiful or interesting, some men found her fascinating. Cowley threads many historical details in this tale, while keeping the spotlight on our spy heroine.

Book Three takes us to The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception, one of five novels she’s contracted to write for Tule Publishing. The third installment about Mary’s journey as a spy does not disappoint. In this book, she and the spy team of Lady Tafford and Mr Whitford are shipped off to Brussels, a city that plays an important part in the events prior to the battle of Waterloo. Mary’s honed her spy skills. She’s learned to shoot a pistol and has improved her disguises in a variety of roles and accents.

Cowley weaves fiction and history together in a way that satisfies both my love for historical novels and romance. Her Mary Bennet is written with great respect towards Austen’s character. 

As a wide-eyed and bushy tailed 20-something and in love with Jane Austen’s novels, I was aghast to learn she had written only six. In desperation to find another Austen, I turned to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. My flat mate and I DEVOURED them. Now, in my (ahem) more mature age, I appreciate Heyer’s historical novels more than her light comedies.

Heyer’s An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride are considered to be so historically accurate that few find fault with her research. Cowley’s writing style is her own; like Heyer she weaves a romance and a mystery into an account of the weeks prior to Waterloo. The Book Tour’s media kit succinctly states:

Life changes once again for British spy Miss Mary Bennet when Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from the Isle of Elba. Mary quickly departs England for Brussels, the city where the Allied forces prepare for war against the French. But shortly after her arrival, one of the Duke of Wellington’s best officers is murdered, an event which threatens to break the delicate alliance between the Allies.

Investigating the murder forces Mary into precarious levels of espionage, role-playing, and deception with her new partner, Mr. Withrow-the nephew and heir of her prominent sponsor, and the spy with whom she’s often at odds. Together, they court danger and discovery as they play dual roles gathering intelligence for the British. But soon Mary realizes that her growing feelings towards Mr. Withrow put her heart in as much danger as her life. And then there’s another murder.

Mary will need to unmask the murderer before more people are killed, but can she do so and remain hidden in the background?”

While Cowley is spare in her descriptions, she offers more details than Austen. She includes important characters like Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Prussian General Blücher and William of Orange (later King William II of The Netherlands), who at the time of Waterloo was a Lieutenant-General. All interact with Mary in her various guises. I found Cowley’s details of Brussels with its many canals and the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball satisfying. She did not dwell overly long on the battle, but gave it enough pages to recount its horrors, just as she provided more than an amuse-bouche to Mary’s budding romance. 

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One last observation for purists: At the end of the book, Cowley acknowledges that for the sake of her plot she changed some historical facts. She lists them and mentions why the changes were made. Of Cowley’s three novels, I found this one the most satisfying and look forward to reading the remaining two Mary Bennet adventures.

Author Bio

Katherine-Cowley-225x300

Author Catherine Cowley

Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Mary Bennet spy series continues with the novels The True Confessions of a London Spy and The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception. Katherine loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she has taught writing classes at Western Michigan University.

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“Well, here we are at Bath; we got here about one o’clock, & have been arrived just long enough to go over the house, fix our rooms & be every well pleased with the whole of it. … it has rained almost all the way, & our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth.

Jane Austen to Cassandra Friday, 17 May, 1799

Sunday, 11th September 2022 marks a celebration at Sydney Gardens in Bath to commemorate the completion of the Garden Restoration project. (Facebook: Garden Gala) This project started three years ago. The £ 3.4  million restoration of the gardens and historic buildings includes the Temple of Minerva (below) and the Loggia (link to a 1972 photo not in the public domain).

Detail_of_Minervas_Temple,_Sydney_Gardens,_Bath_(geograph_Stephen Richards

Detail of the Minerva Temple, Sydney Gardens, Bath. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Image. Stephen Richards, Photographer.

“There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens, a concert, with illuminations and fireworks. To the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm for me, as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound. In the morning Lady Willoughby is to present the colours to some corps, or Yeomanry, or other, in the Crescent, and that such festivities may have a proper commencement, we think of going to . . .”

Jane Austen to Cassandra, June 2, 1799 on a visit to Bath

Plan-of-sydney-gardens-1810

Plan of Sydney Gardens, 1810. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Bath’s 21st century gala celebrating the renewal of Sydney Gardens coincides with the Jane Austen Festival, a well attended and internationally recognized yearly event. Click here to see details for the 2022 Jane Austen Festival which will be held from the 9th to the 18th of September of this year.

janeaustenfestival.padfoot.bath

Jane Austen Festival in Bath, padfoot.org.uk

Location of the gardens:

Sydney Gardens is located at the end of Great Pulteney Street, behind the Holburne Museum. In Jane Austen’s day the museum was known as the Bath Hotel. Built in 1795, the park was popular from the late 18th into the 19th century. Jane and her family moved from Steventon to #4 Sydney Place in May, 1801, when the park was quite new.

Sydney_Place_Bath-Wikipedia-Public Domain

Sydney Place today. A plaque commemorates the location of #4. Wikipedia. Public Domain

The house the Austen’s rented is situated across the street from the park, diagonally opposite the hotel. (See Google map image below.) 

Bath-Pulteney St-Sydney-Gardens

Sydney Gardens in relation to Great Pulteney Street in Bath, with a star over #4 Sydney Place. Screen shot of Google Maps

The distractions this pleasure garden afforded Bath’s populace and visitors were musical and theatrical entertainments, outdoor parties, fireworks, menageries, illuminated night time walks, and even a hot air balloon ascent. During Austen’s day, the Bath Hotel (now Holburne Museum) drew guests, and offered a tavern, coffee room, and billiard room. These amenities were expected by the upper crust during the height of Bath’s popularity. (“Outdoor Parties in the 1800’s vs Now” – Sasha Semjonova, 2021)

Sketch_of_the_Fancy_Fair_at_Sydney_Gardens,_Bath

Sketch of the Fancy Fair at Sydney Gardens, ca. 1836, artist unknown, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

One can imagine that country women like Cassandra and Jane, who were accustomed to long daily walks and bracing air, must have loved their daily perambulations along Sydney Garden’s paths while smelling the scent of its grasses, trees, and flowers. Number 4 Sydney Place had a long narrow garden in the back of the house, so that the Austen women and a maid servant were able to grow some herbs and vegetables, and perhaps raise a few chickens for fresh eggs. The family could not grow all their own food and depended on frequent purchases for their provisions from city vendors, markets, and shops, where meat and produce were not as fresh and nourishing as at their former home in Steventon. 

Jane noted in June 1799 that public breakfasts were offered at Sydney Gardens every morning. She and others were enthusiastic about pretty illuminations (fireworks), visits to the theatre, long strolls in the city and its environs, and walks around the Pump Room to meet and greet other visitors. (Geri Walton.)

Recreating the Labyrinth in Sydney Gardens

Interestingly, Austen wrote this passage to her sister in January, over four months before the family moved to Bath:

“…it would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens!  We might go into the Labyrinth every day.”

Jane Austen to Cassandra, January, 1801

The Labyrinth Austen mentioned fell into disuse and was reconstructed in 2017. Its restoration is fully described in Richard Wyatt’s article “It’s Amaze-ing!” in the November 20, 2017 issue of Bath Newseum. A short YouTube video entitled “Sydney Gardens: Recreating the Labyrinth” and created by the BathnesCouncil includes many images past and present. 

Articles about Sydney Gardens, with many images not in the public domain:

  • Visit Bath: Sydney Gardens from Visit Bath provides some lovely photographs of the current garden, which is among the last of the pleasure gardens that people in Regency England frequented. 
  • The Bath Magazine’s article entitled “The History of Sydney Gardens” offers lovely images of the gardens throughout the 19th century, from Austen’s time and on.
  • Today, #4 Sydney Place, the Austen’s first rented house in Bath is now available as an Airbnb. The Literary Hub discusses this house past and present. One can appreciate its proximity to Sydney Gardens and in some article view the long garden in back of the house, but the dwelling has been extensively renovated and, I assume, has been so changed that the Austen family would not recognize its interior. The reviews from those who have stayed there are positive. If one is inclined to rent the rooms, this link will take you to the page to check its availability. As you stay in Bath, you can “Walk: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen”, as described by Bath Magazine. My husband and I stayed at the Dukes Hotel many moons ago. Our view from our room was the Holburne museum.

No.4-SydneyPlace-Airbnb

Number 4 Sydney Place Airbnb screenshot. The modern renovations are in the former kitchen areas, described by Constance Hill in 1923. Obviously this part of the house has been renovated:

“…  a passage leads to a garden at the back of the house. The large, old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining copper pans and its dresser, laden with fine old china, looked as if it had remained untouched since the Austens’ day.

Chapter XII, Bath, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, by Constance Hill, 1923

This charming blog post (with even more pictures) discusses a 2015 stay at the Austens’ former dwelling in Bath. Click Here. 

Other Resources:

“From [a husband] that loves any thing besides me, [except that which] is very just and honourable—deliver me!”

I came across this prayer in The New Lady’s Magazine, October, 1791. I can just imagine some of Jane Austen’s heroines praying it. Here’s the prayer, entitled “A Young Lady’s Prayer for a Husband”:

“From a prophane (profane) libertine, from one affectedly pious, from a profuse almoner, from an uncharitable wretch, from a wavering religioso and injudicious zealot—deliver me.

“From one of starched gravity, or ridiculous levity, from an ambitious statesman, from a restless projector, from one that loves any thing besides me, but what is very just and honourable—deliver me!

“From an extasy’d poet, a modern wit, a base coward, and a rash fool—deliver me!

“From a Venus darling, from a Bacchus proselyte, . . . from all other masculine affectations, not yet recounted—deliver me!

“—But give me one, whose love has more of judgment than passion, who is master of himself, or at least an indefatigable scholar in such a study, who has an equal flame, a parallel inclination, a temper and soul so like mine, that, as two tallies, we may appear more perfect by union.

“—Give me one of as genteel an education as a little expence of time will permit, with an indifferent fortune, independent of the servile levees of the great, and yet one whose retirement is not so much from the public, as into himself; one (if possible) above flattery and affronts, and yet as careful in preventing an injury, as able to repair it; one, the beauty of whose mind exceeds that of his face, yet that not deformed, so as to be distinguishable from others by it’s ugliness.

“—Give me one that has learned to live much in a little time; one that is no great familiar in converse with the world, nor no little one with himself; one (if two such happinesses may be granted at one time to our sex) who with these endowments may have an easy honest disposition; who by his practice, as well as principles, has made himself so, let him be truly virtuous and pious, and me be truly happy in my choice.” –Inamorato.

Where do you see Austen’s characters in this prayer? How about:

Deliver me from Mr. Collins (one of starched gravity), from Mr. Parker (a restless projector, starting overly-ambitious projects), and from Mr. Willoughby, Wickham, or Crawford (profane libertines). Also deliver me from Sir Walter Elliot (who is “servile to the great”).

I’m guessing a “Venus darling” is a fop, for which I need to go to Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax and say, deliver me from Claud Darracott. A “Bacchus proselyte” is obviously a drunk, so we might say deliver me from Mr. Hurst (?) or any of the party in “Jack and Alice” of Austen’s Juvenilia, all of whom were carried home “dead drunk.” 

Deliver me from Mr. Collins, a man of “starched gravity.” Mr. Collins proposes, Pride and Prejudice, C.E. Brock

What kind of man does this young lady pray for instead?

A man who:

  • Loves her based more on judgment than on passion.
  • Has mastered or is learning to master himself.

That is, he does NOT love her as Mr. Darcy first professes to love Elizabeth. She tells him: “you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character” (ch. 34). Instead, Darcy learns to love her AND “what is very just and honorable,” which he shows by rescuing Lydia, blaming his own reticence for her predicament.

Darcy’s first proposal, based on passion, not judgment and self-mastery. Pride and Prejudice, C.E. Brock, 1895

The “young lady” also prays for a man who:

  • Is reasonably well-educated
  • Does not flatter or take offense easily, but avoids injuring others and can help repair injuries unwittingly inflicted.

I think Henry Tilney is a good example of this. When he finds out what Catherine has been imagining about his father, he does rebuke her, but he obviously doesn’t hold a grudge. He does all he can to make her comfortable later. Henry is also obviously well-educated.

Henry Tilney confronts Catherine, but immediately afterwards he is kind to her and helps heal her “injuries.” Northanger Abbey, C.E. Brock

The young lady also prays for someone who:

  • Has an easy, honest disposition
  • Is more handsome in mind than in face (but not obviously ugly).

Elinor sees this beauty of mind and honesty in Edward Ferrars, who “was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement.”

Edward Ferrars, “the beauty of whose mind exceeds that of his face,” proposes to Elinor. Sense and Sensibility, C.E. Brock

And finally, and presumably most importantly, the young lady prays for a man who:

  • Is truly virtuous (treating others as he wants to be treated) and pious (honoring God) in beliefs and practices. And, he
  • Makes her happy.

Sometimes in Austen’s novels there is a test of virtue. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy acts virtuously when he humbles himself and gets Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia. Wickham shows his lack of virtue by eloping with Lydia with no intention of marriage.

In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon shows his virtue in continuing to serve Marianne and her family any way he can, without really believing Marianne will love him. He also shows loyalty to his first love, Eliza, even after her disgrace. Willoughby, of course, shows his lack of virtue by seducing and abandoning Eliza’s daughter, then abandoning Marianne for a rich woman. 

And, we can see that each hero is the very one to make the heroine happy! Prayers answered, courtesy of Jane Austen.

Colonel Brandon passes the test of virtue; Willoughby does not. Sense and Sensibility, C.E. Brock

Do you see other Austen characters in “A Young Lady’s Prayer for a Husband”? (Or Georgette Heyer characters, if you wish!) Tell us in the comments!

The “Young Lady’s Prayer” can be found on google books

Inquiring readers: Summer is my favorite time to eat vegetables – with corn succulently sweet, tomatoes bright red and juicy, blueberries plumb and flavorful, and oranges burst-in-your-mouth ripe. I’ve wondered for ages how people in centuries past stored, preserved, and prepared foods in a world without packaging, refrigeration, freezing, or canning. Out of necessity people ate foods that were fresh, and therefore nutritious and flavorful. This post discusses foods that were plucked, eaten, and prepared during the months of July through September (and beyond, depending on their preservation.)

Fantastic Hairdress with Fruit and Vegetable Motif 18th C, anonymous,French

Fantastic hairdress with fruit and vegetable motif, 18th c., anonymous. French. Public Domain, The Met Museum

Luckily, I found two websites that made my search for British food easy: one is for the seasonal foods of England at the The European Food Information Council. (See the list of fruits and vegetables below.) In that site I looked up fruits and vegetables in Great Britain, clicked on August, and received the following information on the food during this month. 

Fruits:

Bilberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, crab apple, elderberry, gooseberry, greengage, loganberry, plum, raspberry, redcurrent, strawberry, watermelon

Vegetables:

Artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, bell pepper, broad bean, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cavolo nero, celery, chard, chili, courgette, cucumber, fennel, garlic, haricot bean, kohlrabi, lamb’s lettuce, mangetout, marrow, mushroom, onion, pak choi, pea, potato, radicchio, radish, rucola, runner bean, samphire, spinach, spring onion, sweet corn, tomato,  turnip, watercress

I also checked the National Trust site, which discusses foods in season in August  – July – and September. This site includes a more extensive list of foods, and suggests recipes as well. 

The foods listed in the EIFC are those available in Great Britain today. The variety of foods in Jane Austen’s day were different. I was curious to know which fruits and vegetables were readily available for a family in Steventon or Bath’s markets, particularly in late June through early September. For centuries, foods were imported into the British Isles through trade from far flung lands. Over time, the choice of produce increased, but which recipes were adapted by Austen’s contemporaries to take advantage of the influx of new spices and produce?

Eighteenth-century cookery books, such as Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, provide vital clues, as do contemporary journals, such as James Woodforde’s Diary of a Country Parson. This man’s musings are filled with food references and dining habits. Both books provide colorful, real time descriptions of late 18th century dining habits. (I’ve chosen a time during Austen’s formative years, when her parents labored with family and servants in raising fruits, vegetables, and farm animals in Steventon.) Another good resource is Martha Lloyd’s Household Book, annotated by Julienne Gehrer, which discusses the recipes used by the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, Martha.

British food of yore:

This post concentrates primarily on fresh fruits and vegetables. Meat was plentiful for aristocrats throughout the year, and for the gentry, middle class, and landowners. (Rural poor suffered from the land enclosure acts (1604-1914), when communal lands were fenced off, which forced agricultural workers – who once fed their families in a communal fashion – to find menial work elsewhere.) This post does not discuss the difficulties the dispossessed found in finding food and work in cities, but focuses on Austen’s life and the people with whom she associated, and the food eaten by her social strata.

Renowned British food historian, Ivan Day, and Phillip Effingham, whose organization runs a Love Your Greens campaign, discussed the quintessential British vegetable in a 2011 article by BBC News. Food fads come and go, but Mr. Day chose the humble garden pea for its longevity in British food history.

“It grows easily throughout Britain, and has done for centuries. Its name dates from Chaucer’s time, when it was known as pease. In its dried form, the pea is the basis for traditional staples such as pease porridge. When eaten fresh, with little more than butter as a garnish, it was prized by Tudor kings and commoners alike as a welcome burst of bright green in summer.” – What is the UK’s national vegetable? – BBC News

Mr Effingham chose four vegetables: 

“Cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and onions. If I had to choose one, in terms of sales, versatility and year-round production in Britain, it would come down to the carrot …. Not the white, knobbly wild carrots native to Britain. He means the orange carrot, developed in the Netherlands during the reign of William of Orange.” – BBC News

As I researched information about foods eaten during the late 18th century, I found the following passage in Pastor Woodforde’s diary:

I read a good deal of the History of England today to Nancy whilst she was netting her Apron. Very dry again. I feed my Geese with Cabbage now. – Pastor Woodforde, July 24, 1781: Full text of “The Diary Of A Country Parson”

The cabbage growing season lasted year round, with planting scheduled in sequence. Therefore, the good pastor could feed fresh cabbages to his geese during a time of drought.

  • Summer cabbages: sow from late February/early March (under cloches or similar cover) until early May; transplant in May/June
  • Winter cabbages: sow in April/May; transplant in late June/July​
  • ​Spring cabbages: sow in July/August; transplant in September/October — Cabbages (RHS.org.uk)

Cabbage was also used in a Hannah Glasse recipe “To make Gravy for Soups, Etc.” She added two onions and a carrot, thus three of Mr Effingham’s choices were included. Mr Day’s peas were cooked in this manner: “If you have peas ready boiled, your soup will soon be ready made.” 

Hannah Glasse's recipe for making gravy for soups
Hannah Glasse’s recipe in The Art Of Cookery : Hannah Glasse : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Hannah also included a recipe of Peas Soup, which is so reminiscent of my Dutch mother’s pea soup. Her only addition was carrots, but Hannah’s recipe could be in my family’s recipe bank.

Peas Soup recipe

In a July entry in his diary, Woodforde mentioned peas and a gooseberry tart, in August he wrote of consuming mulberries and pears after dinner. The following passage from October 12, 1770, described the enormous amount of food he and his guests consumed in one day. Fruits and vegetables played a pale role against the copious servings of meat and liquor. Still, they were fresh. 

“Mrs. Carr, Miss Chambers, Mr. Hindley, Mr. Carr, and Sister Jane dined, supped and spent the evening with me, and we were very merry. I gave them for dinner a dish of fine Tench which I caught out of my brother’s Pond in Pond Close this morning, Ham, and 3 Fowls boiled, a Plumb Pudding ; a couple of Ducks rested, a roasted neck of Pork, a Plumb Tart and an Apple Tart, Pears, Apples and Nutts after dinner; White Wine and red. Beer and Cyder. Coffee and Tea in the evening at SIX o’clock. Hashed Fowl and Duck and Eggs and Potatoes etc. for supper. We did not dine till four o’clock — nor supped till ten. Mr. Rice, a Welshman who is lately come to Cary and plays very well on the Triple Harp, played to us after coffee for an hour or two . . . the Company did not go away till near twelve o’clock.”

The Parson’s fresh Tench, a fish that often substituted for carp, is rarely eaten today. (Wikipedia)

Little imagination is needed to understand why gout presented a common problem in the 18th century, for the condition is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and sweets. The Pastor was a hardworking man, however, and on August 17th, 1770 he described a day of work, inserting comments about food and drink:

“Begun shearing my Wheat this morning and gave the shearers according to the Norfolk custom as under, a good breakfast, at ii o’clock plumb cakes with caraway seeds in them, and some Liquor, a good dinner with plumb Puddings and at 4 Beer again. N.B. the above are called elevens and fours’. Only Ben and Will my shearers of Wheat. Before the dew is off in the morn’ they mow Oats. My Wheat this year not above 4 Acres. They shear with sickles instead of Reap-Hooks. The form of them like a Reap-Hook but the Edge of it like a saw, and they do exceeding well. Will brewed this morning a barrel of Ale before he went shearing Wheat at 12 o’clock. – Woodforde

One can only imagine the calories the men expended before dining!

A food that Parson Woodforde mentioned repeatedly, regardless of the season, was plum pudding. Interestingly, this pudding’s traditional recipe is “made with raisins, currants and … suet — that’s the solid white fat surrounding the kidneys and loins of animals like cattle and sheep…”  – Plum pudding has no plums, and what it does have is odd. In other diary entries he also referenced Sugar Plumbs and Plumb Tart.

On May 1, 1772, the parson wrote, 

“In the evening Mr Creed, myself and the Counsellor [Melliar] walked down into Cary and saw the Fair, it being Cary Fair today I saw’ Miss Hannah Pew in the Fair and I gave her some Sugar Plumbs.”

Having never tasted a sugarplum, I researched the recipe.

“A 1668 British cookbook described sugarplum as being ‘small candy in the shape of a ball or disk; a sweetmeat.”  – A Sugar Plum is What You Make Of It – Washington Post

Sugar Plumps-description_image_Diderotcomfit1

Panning: adding layers of sweet which give sugar plums and comfits their hard shell. Visions of Sugar Plums, Jane Austen blog

The Historical Cookery Page provides detailed instructions for making sugar plums. It prefaces its recipe with this statement:

“The dictionary defines a sugarplum as a small round or oval piece of sugary candy. English being the flexible language it is, the name could have come from the resemblance to a small plum. Or it could have come from actual plums preserved in sugar, a relatively new idea in 16th Century England. Prior to this time sugar was so expensive that it was used very sparingly … In the 1540’s, however, sugar started being refined in London which lowered the price considerably … Preserving with sugar allowed the sweet fruits of summer to be enjoyed all year round, especially during the holiday season.”

plum variants

Screen shot of a few variety of plums

Plums were also known as a stone fruit, or a fruit with a hard pit, like cherries, peaches or apricots. The diversity of plums in color and size is astounding – over 2,000 varieties exist in the world. The plum traveled from China, where it was cultivated for thousands of years, and made its way across the world. With the various species grown in different climates, it was no wonder that nutritious plums (dried as prunes) were available year round. And yet … plum pudding had no plums!

As sailors discovered, fresh fruits in the form of oranges and lemons maintained health, preventing scurvy and promoting healthy gums and teeth, important to one’s health when dentistry was in its infancy and, frankly, barbaric. Plums (and many summer grown vegetables), attained peak season from July to August, although many were available from June through October. 

Pickling was one means of preserving fruits and vegetables for the long fall, winter, and early spring months. This pickling recipe from Martha Lloyd is all encompassing and can still be followed today:

India Pickles

Take half a pd: of Ginger put it in water one night scrape it & cut it in thin slices put it in a bowl with dry salt & let it stand till your other ingredients are fit. Take half a pd: of Garlic, peel & cut it in pieces put it in dry salt three days then wash it and put it in the sun to dry. Take a qt: of a pd: of Mustard seed bruised very fine; and oz: of Termrick [tumeric], a Gallon of the strongest vinegar, ptu these ingredients into a stone jar, let it be three parts full. Take white Cabbage, & quarter it keep it in dry salt three days, then dry it into the Sun. (to is scratched out.) Take white Cabbage & quarter it keep it in dry salt three days then dry it into the sun. So do Calliflowers, Cucumbers, Mellons, Peaches, plums Apples or any thing you of this sort. Radishes may be done the same way leaving on the young tops, also french beans & asparagus the three last are to be salted but two days & dried as the others. You need not empty your jar, but as things come in season put them in and fill it up with fresh vinegar. The more every thing is dried in the sun the plumper it will be in the pickle, if the pickles are not high colour’d enough, add a little more term’ric [tumeric] which makes it the colour of the india Mango. Never put red Cabbage or Walnuts because they spoil & discoulor all the rest. – Martha Lloyd, p 104

Preserving foods:

The methods of preservation Martha mentions in this recipe are salting or brining, pickling, and drying in the sun. Another method of preservation included boiling fruit in sugar or in a heavy syrup. If there was no sun, one method of drying was to place the fruit or vegetable in a cooling oven to draw out the moisture. 

Pickled vegetables and eggs were stored in glazed crocks, and soaked with vinegar (as Martha’s recipe directs), and were then covered with leather or a pig bladder. Sugared fruits preserved in heavy syrup was a costly method of preservation. Mold developing on top was scraped off.

Martha also mentioned curing, jugging, and potting. She made vinegar, jellies, and wine from fruits  in season including raspberries, currants, elderberries, and oranges. In addition to wine, her cookbook included beer recipes made with ginger or spruce. 

298px-Illustration_Ribes_uva-crispa0

Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa – botanical illustrations), 1885, wikimedia commons

Gooseberries were quite versatile. Martha’s recipes included the fruit to make cheese, wine, and vinegar. They were also dried, including grapes, and plums (which turned into prunes.) Gooseberry season started in June, but the fruit didn’t sweeten until July. They are suitable for cooking, but needed sweetening unless they were used as a savory. (Laura Mason & Catherine Brown, The Taste of Britain, British Food History)

The rich had additional methods of preserving food and eating fresh foods out of season. Orangeries, or a Georgian form of green houses, enabled fruits and vegetables to grow year round. Ice houses, dug deep into the ground, had thick walls for insulation. Straw or sawdust provided additional protection. Great blocks of ice were shipped from far northern climes and transported to grand houses all over England.

As a final comment, no matter how well vegetables and fruits were preserved, the best way to eat them was in season when they were freshly obtained from the earth, tree, bush or vine. 

Resources:

Having just made a big move myself, I was intrigued by the thought that Jane Austen herself—not to mention several of her characters—knew what it took to move an entire household from one place to another.

One of the best resources available to us regarding a big move is the letter Austen wrote to Cassandra on January 3, 1801, prior to their family’s move to Bath from Steventon. From it, and from the details in her novels, we learn many interesting details about what a big move entailed.

If you’ve ever wanted some Regency advice on moving house, this is for you!

Image of Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons
Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons

Send Your Servants Ahead

In terms of logistics, members of the genteel class usually sent servants ahead of them when they went from one house to another, as we see when Mr. Bingley goes to Netherfield:

Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.

Pride and Prejudice

Similarly, Elinor and Marianne, when arriving in London with Mrs. Jennings after three days of travel, are greeted by “all the luxury of a good fire.” The house is “handsome, and handsomely fitted up.” Elinor writes to her mother before a dinner that will not “be ready in less than two hours from their arrival.” It’s clear that Mrs. Jennings employs servants who clean, cook, shop, and prepare the house for her visits.

Hire Good People

When preparing to move to Bath, Jane Austen’s mother wanted to keep two maids: “My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids; my father is the only one not in the secret.”

With her typical flair for humor, Austen hoped to engage other servants as well: “We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side.”

Do Your Research

In Austen’s letter, she talks about several areas of Bath where they hoped to find a house: Westgate Buildings, Charles Street, and “some of the short streets leading from Laura Place or Pulteney Street.”

About Westgate Buildings, Austen wrote: “though quite in the lower part of the town, are not badly situated themselves. The street is broad, and has rather a good appearance.” Regarding Charles Street, she thought it “preferable”: “The buildings are new, and its nearness to Kingsmead Fields would be a pleasant circumstance.” And concerning the third area: “The houses in the streets near Laura Place I should expect to be above our price. Gay Street would be too high, except only the lower house on the left-hand side as you ascend.”

4 Syndey Place, Bath

Mrs. Austen seemed to have a preference: “her wishes are at present fixed on the corner house in Chapel Row, which opens into Prince’s Street. Her knowledge of it, however, is confined only to the outside, and therefore she is equally uncertain of its being really desirable as of its being to be had.”

None of the Austens were in favor of Oxford Buildings: “we all unite in particular dislike of that part of the town, and therefore hope to escape.”

Bring Your Art

We know from Austen’s letter that they planned to take the following pictures and paintings from Steventon to Bath: “[T]he battle-piece, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, and all the old heterogeneous miscellany, manuscript, Scriptural pieces dispersed over the house, are to be given to James.”

Good artwork is hard to find.

Of special note, Jane tells Cassandra, “Your own drawings will not cease to be your own, and the two paintings on tin will be at your disposal.”

Good Furniture is Worth Moving

Apparently, Rev. and Mrs. Austen had a very good bed that was irreplaceable: “My father and mother, wisely aware of the difficulty of finding in all Bath such a bed as their own, have resolved on taking it with them…” Austen wrote this about the rest of the household beds: “all the beds, indeed, that we shall want are to be removed — viz., besides theirs, our own two, the best for a spare one, and two for servants; and these necessary articles will probably be the only material ones that it would answer to send down.”

When it came to their dressers, they decided it was time for an upgrade: “I do not think it will be worth while to remove any of our chests of drawers; we shall be able to get some of a much more commodious sort, made of deal, and painted to look very neat…”

Image of dining room at the Jane Austen House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton.

As to the rest of their furniture, they decided it would be better to replace most of it in Bath: “We have thought at times of removing the sideboard, or a Pembroke table, or some other piece of furniture, but, upon the whole, it has ended in thinking that the trouble and risk of the removal would be more than the advantage of having them at a place where everything may be purchased. Pray send your opinion.”

Jane’s final comments to Cassandra are amusing as ever: “My mother bargains for having no trouble at all in furnishing our house in Bath, and I have engaged for your willingly undertaking to do it all.”

Visit People on the Way

In Austen’s letter, she explains their family travel plans: “[M]y mother and our two selves are to travel down together, and my father follow us afterwards in about a fortnight or three weeks. We have promised to spend a couple of days at Ibthorp in our way. We must all meet at Bath, you know, before we set out for the sea, and, everything considered, I think the first plan as good as any.”

Ibthorpe, Photo by Rachel Dodge

Not So Different

Moving house in Jane Austen’s day was not quite so different from today. Though the modes of transportation and the methods of research and communication were somewhat different, I was delighted to find that the Austens’ moving plans were surprisingly applicable to mine! (Except for the servants.)


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Coming this fall: The Secret Garden Devotional. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Inquiring readers, Persuasion-lite is a cinematic reworking of Jane Austen’s final novel, finished before her death, but not published until afterward. Coming off the heels of Netflix’s highly successful Bridgerton (in this cast of Persuasion-lite you can surmise the former series’ influence) and the popularity of PBS’s Sanditon, the decision-makers behind Netflix productions gave the go ahead to a film that ‘modernized’ Austen’s book in order to introduce young audiences to Jane Austen. Or so the story goes. To do so, Chefs Moderne created a story-telling recipe to appeal to newcomers.

Persuasion’s traditional recipe: 

This rich, full-bodied classic was created by a Chef in her prime. Her finished recipe transfigured deceptively simple components into rich flavors heretofore undiscovered by the ordinary palate. The original ingredients, while considered old-fashioned today, are still accessible to epicureans who wish to savor the recipe’s nuanced complexity and its historical references. 

Time to digest: hours, with repeated enjoyment over a lifetime. Three Michelin stars were awarded to this Chef, who served distinct dishes that were executed to perfection. (Some might say she would have been awarded four stars had this rating system included such a category.)

Netflix’s Persuasion-lite recipe:

This adaptation took a traditional recipe and simplified it to its basic components, using only those ingredients readily accessible in any grocery store today. While it echoes the original, it pales in comparison and fails to plumb the classic’s rich depths. To be fair, there were hints of originality in the spices. This recipe has been rewritten in modern terms that defy belief.

Time to digest: One hour and 47 minutes. One may partake of repeated helpings at the Netflix buffet. A number of diners might find this meal delicious and insist on more helpings; a number will push half eaten plates away or not order the meal again. Sadly the Chefs Moderne who adapted the recipe were not awarded a single Michelin star, since their efforts resulted in a dish that leaves the diner hungry.

Primary Ingredients:

Anne Elliot 

The original recipe described a complex woman of 27 who has lost the bloom of youth. She regrets her decision at nineteen to reject Frederick Wentworth’s proposal due to Lady Russell’s persuasive influence. He had not yet made his mark in life. Anne is a woman of character and conviction who must negotiate the difficulties of living with a shallow father and sisters. As the neglected middle child, she lives largely in their selfish shadows, submitting to her family’s and friends’ needs. When Wentworth reenters her life unexpectedly, she observes her long lost love from afar. From his indifference he seems all but lost to her. Under the Classic Chef’s direction, Anne’s journey back to her Captain via circuitous routes is touching, romantic, and memorable. 

Persuasion-1024x587

Dakota Johnson sharing Anne Elliot’s thoughts. Netflix publicity photo.

The Netflix recipe describes Anne as an opinionated cheeky woman (Dakota Johnson) who gazes at and talks to the viewers (breaking the fourth wall) while stroking her pet rabbit (see image above from Netflix publicity), sharing her thoughts in contemporary language, and swilling red wine. She tells us what’s on her mind and in her mind throughout the production. Her observations, starting with her missing Captain Wentworth, the love of her life, are often amusing. In no way does this reworked Anne reflect Austen’s language or intent. In fact, her comical mannerisms and frequent faux pas wind up as a shallow, one-note substitution for the fully realized original. The makeup department also notably applied lipstick to her mouth, thereby diminishing Anne’s transformation from a wan and mousy woman into someone who blossoms with love when reunited with her captain. 

Captain Wentworth

The classic recipe describes Wentworth as a vigorous, successful male, whose pride prevents him from revealing the hurt and, yes, love he still feels for the woman who rejected him. In the classic recipe, one can find instances of his kindness towards Anne and his growing realization that this complex, level-headed, and kind woman is worthy of his regard now as much (even more) as then.

The modern Wentworth is certainly handsome (Cosmo Jarvis), but as written for this lite version, he remains on the sidelines. I wanted him sprinkled more vigorously into this plot, but had to make do with his weak, almost secondary role. Only when Anne reads his letter out loud (it is considered to be one of the best love letters ever written) does the real and complex Austen hero come to the fore.

Mary Musgrove

Her role (Mia McKenna-Bruce) adds much comic spice and her presence in the modern version seems major compared to her irritating presence in the classic. Certainly her ingredient is one-note and overly exagerrated, but her character remains true to Austen’s depiction of a selfish, prickly, and whining sister. One memorable addition not in the classic, but quite original, is of Anne answering her sister in Italian during Mary’s nonstop self-indulgent monologues – which she fails to notice.

William Elliot

His role is stronger in the lite recipe than in the classic. In fact, his (Henry Golding’s) presence overpowers Wentworth’s at times and Anne seems more susceptible to his dubious charms. Why is beyond me, for he shares with her his sleazy plan to prevent a possible marriage between Sir Walter and his daughter’s widowed companion in Bath, a Mrs Clay, who in the original recipe sported a snaggle tooth but who, in the lite version, has an ample bosom. William’s sole aim was to prevent Sir Walter from siring an heir that would knock him out of first place for inheriting what remains of the Elliot estate. His final scene in the film elicited a guffaw from me, but Austen’s classic wit did not look for laughter in the cheap seats and the ending in Persuasion-lite made no sense, for William would never have married a woman with no station in life or money.

Henrietta, Louisa, and Charles Musgrove (Respectively: Izuka Hoyle, Nia Towle, and  Ben Bailey-Smith). 

Sisters-in-law and husband of Mary Musgrove, they pop in and out of the lite narrative to showcase the sisters’ friendship with Anne and her former and current relationship to Charles. Louisa’s story arc especially moves the plot forward. Charles is Mary’s long suffering husband in the classic version, but the Chefs Moderne use him to demonstrate Anne’s awkward drunken confession during the Musgrove’s dinner party to inform the assembled company that Charles had proposed to her first. The Classic’s sensible, thoughtful Anne would rather have died than commit such crude impropriety.

Supporting Ingredients:

Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot

Both characters are sadly given short shrift. Their curt treatment was perhaps intentional, but during their short on screen time, the two actors made their mark. Richard Grant’s performance, while over the top funny, reminds me more of Billy Nighy’s comedic turn as Mr. Woodhouse in Emma. 2020 than the character described by Austen. In Grant’s case, his Sir Walter is certainly fixated on his self-important status, which in the lite version was funny. In the classic version, however, Austen made it clear that as a baronet he sat at the lowest end of the peerage scale, making his egotistical turn even more absurd. 

Elizabeth  (Yolanda Kettle) is not more beautiful than Anne, as described in the Classic. In fact, she looks anemically pale next to her sister’s vivid coloring. Except for Elizabeth’s sumptuous wardrobe and meticulous hairstyles, one would not have thought her to be the favored older sister. Her mean-spiritedness remains intact, however, and contrasts nicely with Anne’s, well, niceness.

Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird)

This lady’s well meaning advice separated Anne from her captain. She plays the loving mother substitute and appears just enough in Persuasion-lite to remind us that Anne has had someone in her corner since her mother’s death. As in the Classic, she shows more concern for her young friend than her actual family.

A variety of  ingredients (which, sadly, are mostly unrecognizable for uninformed palates in this lite version):

Admiral and Mrs Croft, Captain and Mrs Harville, Mr & Mrs Musgrove and their two young grandsons, Captain Benwick, Mrs Clay, and Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret. (Mrs Smith is undetectable.) 

Those unfamiliar with the classic recipe will miss their almost absent presence or wonder about their inclusion. Mrs Smith, who made an appearance in the Classic, is ignored, but she was an important witness to William Elliot’s character.

I defy those new to Austen to accurately suss out these characters’ relationship with Anne or the Elliot family. Sir Walter’s attraction to Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret is given more importance (we already know he’s a peerage snob) than the elder Musgroves and Mary’s two young boys, or Admiral and Mrs Croft, who play important roles in Anne’s journey back to Wentworth.

Spices:

Clothing

Some critics who reviewed Persuasion-lite found the clothes drab and lackluster. Their critiques should have been amended to Anne’s clothes only. Since the makeup department never removed the bloom off her rose, her wardrobe substituted for her appearance, which was ‘“so altered that [Wentworth] should not have known her again.” Her gray and brown spinsterish gowns brighten as she is exposed more to Wentworth’s company. The other actors and actresses are appropriately fashionable for their stations, which reflect clothing in 1816-17 England. I also thought that the homespun, handmade feel of Anne’s wardrobe made sense, in that she was the least favored daughter and probably had her clothes sewn by a local seamstress, whereas Elizabeth and Mary most likely demanded gowns made by modistes in London. 

Sites:

Ah, lovely England with its historic villages and great mansions.These were wonderfully represented with beautiful exteriors, interiors and gardens. Two locations played prominent roles.

Lyme Regis: This seaside village plays a pivotal role in both the Classic and Lite versions. The basic storyline of Austen’s plot remains in the lite version, but details are missing. Still, Lyme Regis, the Cobb, the village, and it beautiful shoreline are a visual treat, and many of the scenes do echo the Classic version,  and even include bits and pieces of original dialogue.

Lyme-Regis-Persuasion-Netflix (1)

First glimpse of William Elliot’s carriage in Lyme Regis. At the window from left, Anne Elliot and to her right the Musgrove sisters. To the far right, Mary Musgrove nee Elliot.

Bath: Ah, the buildings, the streets, the views of the Royal Crescent, the walk down the stairs in the Upper Assembly Rooms. There was no promenade in the Pump rooms, where Anne’s famous line to William Elliot is widely quoted (but looked over in the Lite version;)

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’

‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

Although this lovely quote was not included, some of Anne’s conversations were used in Bath, as well as Captain Wentworth’s love letter. Since these scenes lead to the denouement, they ended the film on a high note.

Language: 

Here’s where the Chefs Moderne took the greatest license. Instead of using the beautiful language in the Classic, the Chefs Moderne chose modern phrases. I defy you to find them in a Regency era lexicon.

“We are strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes.” (Anne Elliot)

“It is often said if you’re a five in London, you’re a ten in Bath!” (Anne Elliot breaking the 4th wall when she looks directly into the camera to converse with the viewer.)

“Marriage is transactional” (Lady Russell)

“Thanks”

“I am an empath” (Mary Musgrove)

“Fart around”

“He’s a ten – I never trust a ten” (Anne about William Elliot) 

“Embodying gratitude” (Mary again)

Comment: 

Good grief. The Chefs Moderne must have burned their candles down to their wicks to come up with this drivel. After watching Persuasion-lite, those not initiated to Austen’s novels and who love this filmed version, might turn to the novel. Imagine their surprise when they discover that her 205 year old book,  filled with the language, customs, and manners of her day, varies significantly from this comic book version.

Personal request: Gentle readers, feel free to agree or disagree with my musings. Let’s keep our discourse genteel and agreeable for the sake of my sanity. I thank you in advance.

Other Critics Reviews:

Negative

 “At no point during Carrie Cracknell’s directorial debut do you ever get the sense that anyone’s actually read Persuasion.” – Dakota Johnson is woefully miscast in mortifying Jane Austen adaptation – Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent

“Our demure protagonist Anne Elliot is forever doing supercilious takes and wry monologues to camera, taking despairing swigs from a bottle of red wine in private, occasionally nursing a quirky pet rabbit, and at the end (unforgivably) gives us a wink to seal the deal of our adoringly complicit approval.” Persuasion review – Dakota Johnson looks the part as Jane Austen gets Fleabagged, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Positive

“For anyone not too bothered by departures from the novel, the romantic denouement will be immensely pleasurable.: – Dakota Johnson in Netflix’s ‘Persuasion’: Film Review, David Rooney, Chief Film Critic, The Hollywood Reporter

More reviews: 

Netflix’s Persuasion the worst film of the year?, Olivia Pym, GQ Magazine

Persuasion review – a travesty of Jane Austen, Slash Film,

Trailer of the film:

Under this trailer, J.Dion wrote:

“Anne’s strength is her quiet, consistency. She is intelligent and thoughtful.  Altering her character for modern sensibilities is insulting not only to Austin’s character but to modern audiences.  There are many “Anne’s” in this world they and deserve  to be valued for who they are and the enrichment they bring to all. 

Persuasion is my favorite of Austen’s novel. Unfortunately this looks to be another instance  of the “title and names are unchanged but the characters are missing.” 

Inquiring readers, I despise housework.  As I lugged my vacuum cleaner from room to room I thought: ‘It could be worse. I would only have a broom or mop had I lived in 1810.’

And so I should be grateful to clean my house in the 21st century. But what were the duties a typical maid of all work or housemaid during this era, and what cleaning supplies did they use?

The Housemaid c.1782-6 by Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788

The Housemaid c.1782-6 Thomas Gainsborough, Tate Gallery, Public Domain

Dusting & Sweeping:

A Georgian/Regency household experienced a daily fight with dust, one that was usually lost. A wealthy family could afford more than one housemaid, but ordinary housewives most likely only had a maid of all work to help her. The poor were left to their own devices. Most roads and lanes in cities and towns were made of dirt that turned into mud on rainy days. Animal droppings from horses and cattle driven through town by drovers dried into dust if not swept from the street. Brisk winds would sweep dirt and flakes and dried droppings through cracks and crevices around windows and under doors. On mild days, windows were cracked open to admit fresh air, allowing the detritus to drift in a constant invasion.

Front entrances (indoors and outdoors), floors, and rugs also required constant maintenance. The job to clean them was unceasing.

In 1776, Susannah Whatman wrote the following in The Housekeeping Book for her housemaids:

“In cleaning floors…use as little soap as possible (if any) in ‘scouring’ rooms. Fuller’s earth and fine sand preserves the colour of the boards, and does not leave a white appearance as soap does.[Note that this job was performed on hands and knees.] All the rooms to be dry scrubbed with white sand.”

Susannah also wanted her maids to use a painters brush on ledges, furniture, and window frames – then follow up with feather dusters. Under no circumstances were they to dust pictures “nor the frames of anything that had a gilt edge.” They were never to dust black busts.

[Other mistresses expected housemaids to dust daily with clean linen cloths. After cleaning spots on wood furniture, they rubbed the wood with linseed oil until shiny.]

Daily chores:

  • Rise early to prepare the ground floor for the family. (more about this below)
  • Sweep the hall and staircase, and the “banister occasionally rubbed with very little oil and every day with a dry cloth.”
  • “To keep a small mop in the cupboard of the WC (water closet), and use water everyday to keep the inside clean.” The maid also had instructions to use only warm water during frosty weather.
  • Sweep the steps in front of the house
  • Force back all the window shutters so they will not get warped. Regarding shutters and drapes, they must be regulated according to the movement of the sun to prevent the sun from shining in full on carpets, painted furniture, pictures, and furniture with mahogany wood. For north facing windows, “the rooms must be aired, and the flies and flygokdubgs destroyed in time.”
  • Work in the Storeroom after her housework is finished, except on Saturday

Weekly housekeeping duties:

  • Tuesdays wash her own things and the dusters in the morning, and help wash stockings. In the evening iron her own things.
  • A_Woman_doing_Laundry_by_Henry_Robert_Morland

    A Woman Doing Laundry, Henry Robert Morland, 18th C., Denver Art Museum, public domain

  • Wednesdays fold with the Laundrymaid
  • Saturdays whisk the window curtains, and shake mats and carpets.

Her list goes on and on, which makes one wonder when and if the housemaid in Mrs Whatman’s house had any spare time

Daniel Pool in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew states that housemaids were the women who kept the house running. I’d like to add that the housekeeper (or mistress of the house) made sure the people she supervised stuck to their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules in the performance of their duties.

Leslie,_George_Dunlop_-_Her_first_place

Her First Place, George Dunlop Leslie, 19th c.?, Wikimedia, public domain work.

The reasons for the housemaids’ early rising was to make sure to lay & light the fires so that the family arose to a warm room. They then emptied grates of ash and cleaned them. For morning ablutions they hauled clean and heavy buckets of warm water up to the family’s rooms, sometimes as much as four times per day. After the family had bathed and washed and started their day, the maids took away dirty water and emptied chamber pots. They opened or closed curtains, then made beds in the morning and turned them down at night.

Pehr_Hilleström-Två_tjänsteflickor_vid_en_bäck (2)

Two Maid-Servants at a Brook, 1779, Pehr Hilleström, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the evening housemaids ironed or mended clothes, or tended to their own needs. Their day was never ending.

As the 19th century progressed, however, housework became less onerous. This was due to new inventions. Rumford fireplaces were more efficient and smaller than traditional fireplaces, and emitted more heat due to their design. Indoor plumbing was slowly introduced and by the end of the 19th century had become common even in middle class houses. Kitchen stoves with flat tops and doors that opened to an oven were invented and were sold by 1790. Their design encouraged the production of new flat-bottomed pots and pans. Insulated ice boxes kept an ice block from melting, keeping foods like milk and meats fresh. By 1809, methods of preserving food through sterilized glass containers or hermetically sealed cans reduced daily food preparation.

These inventions eased the intensive labor of maintaining and keeping a clean and smooth working household, allowing for fewer servants to perform the same chores or dividing the tasks in a different, more efficient way. Still, I thank my lucky stars for today’s automatic can openers, reusable storage containers, electric vacuum cleaners, freezers, water heaters, and sanitizers.

Regardless of our modern improvements, I still hate to do housework.

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More About Female Servants:

Additional Sources:

Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From fox hunting to whist — the facts of daily life in 19th-century England (1993). NY, Touchstone, published by Simon & Schuster.

Whatman, Susanna. The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman. (Foreword by Christina Hardyment, afterword by Thomas Balston.) First published in 1776, published 1987. London, National Trust Classics.

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