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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“You cannot imagine—it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard.”—Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 31, 1811

“One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”—Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park

In the Garden With Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson, a delightful view of English gardens

Jane Austen’s letters and novels are full of references to gardens of one sort or another. The theme of JASNA’s AGM in Victoria, Canada this year is Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens. Following this garden theme, this summer might be a great time to read Kim Wilson’s book, In the Garden with Jane Austen.

 

The lovely photos throughout the book alone are worth the price. We get to see lovely estates and their grounds and gardens as well as many flowers, clearly labeled.

 

Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, as well as Tea with Jane Austen and At Home with Jane Austen.

Interview with Kim Wilson

I asked the author, Kim Wilson, to share some of her thoughts with us.

What gave you the idea to write this book?

As I read Jane Austen’s novels, I couldn’t help noticing that the characters we love appreciate nature and the outdoors and the characters we love to hate do not. The characters of Mansfield Park are perfect examples of this. Fanny Price loves nature to the depths of her soul and is inspired by nature poetry, as Jane Austen herself was. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is carelessly indifferent to the beauties of nature, which should be enough to warn us about her dubious moral views. And there are so many references to landscape and gardens in the novels and in Austen’s letters that it made me curious about the gardens she might have encountered that could have inspired her writing. What, for example, was so special about a Regency shrubbery? Austen’s heroines often fling themselves into the shrubbery whenever they get the least bit emotional, and I knew I had to find out why. The next thing you know I was mapping out a tour of the gardens belonging to the Austen family and their friends. It’s always wonderful to have the excuse to see more of Jane Austen’s world!

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I hope my research gives my readers a better appreciation of Jane Austen’s emotional connection to gardens and the possible inspirations for the outdoor scenes in her works.

What were the hardest and best parts of researching this book?

The saddest thing about researching the book was visiting the sites where the gardens no longer exist, such as the Austen family’s garden at Steventon Parsonage, or Jane Austen’s brother Henry’s garden in Hans Place in London that she had called “quite a Love.” But of course touring the existing sites, such as the beautiful gardens at Jane Austen’s House Museum and at her brother Edward’s Chawton House (both in Chawton, Hampshire) completely made up for it. To sit in the same gardens where Jane Austen herself sat “and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

A Variety of Gardens

The first chapter explores Cottage Gardens, focusing, of course, on Chawton Cottage where Austen lived. We also learn about laborers’ cottage gardens, which provided much-needed food, and farm and parsonage gardens, like those of Robert Martin and Mr. Collins. The opposite end of the scale was the cottage ornée of the rich, with much fancier gardens. Such “cottages” are mentioned in Sanditon and Sense and Sensibility. The outbuildings found in a country garden get a mention as well, ranging from the brewhouse to the privy.

Next come “Mansion and Manor House Gardens,” the gardens of great estates like Pemberley. Godmersham, Chawton House, and Chatsworth are good examples. Wilson describes how estates like Sotherton (Mansfield Park) were being “improved” by Repton and others to match current fashions in landscaping. Such estates offered pleasure grounds, flower gardens, shrubberies, and wildernesses. Wilson also explores the fads for temples, Gothic seats, grottoes, and hermitages, as well as conservatories and hothouses.

“City Gardens” provided refreshment in the midst of town. Jane hoped for a house with a garden in Bath. The Georgian Garden in Bath, which I have visited, recreates a lovely city garden of Austen’s era. London is apparently full of hidden “garden squares,” which are thrown open to the public one weekend a year (June 10 and 11, 2023, I just looked it up!). The chapter also explores the role of the job gardener, who was paid by the job, though he sometime stole valuable plants. Again we find out where the privy might be hidden in the garden. Flowers also had a role as party decorations and hat trim, as Austen mentions.

“Public Gardens and Parks” explores gardens like London’s Kensington Gardens and Bath’s Sydney Gardens, across the street from a house where Jane’s family lived. We also see views of Box Hill and Netley Abbey and learn about tours of the picturesque, epitomized by The Tour of Dr. Syntax.

The final chapter provides details on “Re-Creating Jane Austen’s Garden,” including some of Jane’s favorite flowers.

The paperback version of In the Garden with Jane Austen, with a nice sturdy cover.

I see this book as a treasure trove for:

  • Jane Austen fans, of course. In each chapter, Wilson gives us connections with Austen and her novels and letters. For example, we find out that when General Tilney of Northanger Abbey said his pinery “had yielded only one hundred” pineapples, he was boasting of his wealth, since pineapples were very expensive, selling for a guinea apiece or more. (Wilson says this is equivalent to about $100 or £50 each today.)
  • History buffs who will learn things like why people hired hermits to live in their gardens, why shrubberies had gravel paths, and what crimes dishonest gardeners committed. Fun historical recipes are included for things like “Bee’s Wax Lip-Salve” and “Pot-Pourri.”
  • Writers of Regency fiction and Jane Austen Fan Fiction who want to include gardens in their stories. The book will give them lists of appropriate flowers with some pictures, and information about the gardens and their designs. (She doesn’t tell you when different flowers bloom in England, though, so you’ll have to look that up elsewhere.)
  • Gardeners who want to create their own Jane Austen-style garden, or who just enjoy reading about different types of gardens and plants. Wilson gives ideas for recreating a cottage garden, flower border, villa or small mansion house garden, herb garden, great estate garden, and town or city garden. She includes lists of flowers and herbs from real English gardens including those at Chawton Cottage and nearby Gilbert White’s House, along with diagrams of how those gardens are laid out. She even tells you how to find seeds for authentic “heirloom” plants.
  • Tourists (including armchair tourists) who want to visit Austen-style gardens in England. I count 25 gardens Wilson recommends visiting. For each, she shows a lovely picture and gives contact information. She tells readers what to see and what tours are available. (Be sure to check websites for current information, of course.) She includes obvious places, like Chawton Cottage and Stoneleigh Abbey, and unfamiliar ones I’d love to see, like Houghton Lodge and The Royal Crescent Hotel. The end of the book also lists “Gardens Featured in Jane Austen Film Adaptations.” So you can explore those as well, either in person, if you have enough time and money, or online.
  • Any lovers of beautiful gardens and flowers will enjoy the book, as it’s a delight to peruse!

Kim Wilson just informed me that In the Garden with Jane Austen is currently out of print, though you can still find copies at Jane Austen Books, online, or possibly through your library. She plans to work on a new edition next spring, traveling to England for new photos and information. So if you want to wait 18 months to a year, you can get the new edition, if you prefer.

Enjoy the refreshment of In the Garden with Jane Austen.

More about Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson is a writer, speaker, tea lover, gardening enthusiast, food historian, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the award-winning author of At Home with Jane Austen, Tea with Jane Austen, and In the Garden with Jane Austen. A popular speaker, Kim gives entertaining talks to audiences nationwide. She has been a featured lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation (the American partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Road Scholar, and was the keynote speaker for the 2020 Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival. She is currently writing Entertaining Mr. Darcy, and Celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday for the series Celebrating the Year with Jane Austen with coauthor Jo Ann Staples.

Her other books:

Tea with Jane Austen

“In this delightful book Kim Wilson shares the secrets of tea drinking in Regency England, including a whole batch of recipes to help recreate some memorable occasions. . . . Kim Wilson has assembled a collection of anecdotes, quotations, verses and recipes, charmingly illustrated with largely contemporary engravings and line drawings, to provide an exhaustive and uplifting history of England’s favourite brew.” Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

At Home with Jane Austen

“Wilson once again leads the reader through a specific aspect of Austen’s life– in this case, the physical spaces which she lived in or visited. . . . Quotes from Austen’s letters convey the day-to-day experience of living in these places, and examples from her work demonstrate how often these experiences found their way into the novels. . . . even casual fans should enjoy following in the beloved author’s footsteps.”Publishers Weekly

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, which should be available this fall.

Inquiring readers: The two summers before Jane Austen’s death, cold and wet weather plagued Great Britain due to a volcanic eruption in 1815 half a world away. This article discusses the reasons for the unseasonably cold weather and its effects on the world’s population, concentrating on those who lived in Great Britain. 

Tambora-Eruption_pg14_2Tambora’s Eruption

On April 10, 1815, a volcanic eruption of Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa became the worst volcanic event in the last 1,000 years. According to an article published by National Geographic, this event was a “hundred times more powerful than the 1981 Mount St. Helens blast.” It is estimated that the pyroclastic flow from the eruption killed from 10,000 to 90,000 people initially. These flows were similar to the fast-moving currents of hot gas and volcanic matter that initially killed thousands of citizens in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Tambora’s catastrophic event “injected about 100 megatons of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere,” resulting in a deadly atmospheric haze that traveled slowly around the globe. (National Geographic.)

That haze caused spectacularly colorful sunsets, influencing painters in Europe, Great Britain, and the U.S. (indeed the world over) to capture them on canvases.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_Zwei_Männer_am_Meer

Caspar David Friedrich Zwei Männer am Meer (Two Men by the Sea), 1817

The gaseous haze-inducing particles reflected only a fraction of sunlight back into the atmosphere, dimming the sun’s effects, resulting in a cooling of the world’s temperature by approximately half a degree Celsius. This change may seem fractional, but it affected the world’s climate for three years — 1815, 1816, and 1817 (the year of Austen’s death).

The effects of the eruption were devastating the world over and caused winter weather to linger into the summer months:

“In the U.S., frosts and cold weather ravaged the New England growing season, prompting cries of a “year without a summer” and a migration into western states. Plunging temperatures broke the monsoon cycle in Asia, sending India into famine and triggering a cholera epidemic of unprecedented severity.”

“Summer cold snaps and crippling rains also destroyed Chinese farmers’ rice paddies, driving many to starvation, infanticide, and even child slavery” – National Geographic

Loss of crops in the ensuing growing seasons, starved millions more. English scientist Luke Howard (1772-1864) recorded in 1816:

“Not meadows and villages alone but portions of cities and large towns lay long underwater; dikes were broken, bridges blown up, the crops spoiled or carried off by torrents and the vintage ruined by the want of sun to bring out and ripen the fruit.”

Farmer’s Magazine (1816) spoke of water overflowing river banks and carrying away cattle in the UK. The severest conditions were recorded in early February, where hard frosts and deep snow, combined with a “depressed agricultural sector” reduced formerly industrious and economically sound families to the lowest state of poverty.

Before Tambora’s eruption, England had already experienced years of cooling, harvest failure, and famine (1813-1814). The after effects of Tambora made this trend worse, resulting in incessant rainfall, cool temperatures, and bitter winds, but these shifts in climate were not the only surprises in store for the populace. In 1815, Edmund Woolterton wrote from Denton, Norfolk: “the drought has been so severe the park is short of feed …” Violent winds, more floods, drifts of snow that made roads impassable, and hard frosts greeted autumn and winter…“ The incessant spring downpours prevented crop growth and caused more widespread flooding.

Farmer’s Magazine 17 (1816) wrote of “considerable quantities of soil, filling upsoughs and ditches; and some Sheep have been lost.” Turnips and other food for livestock were severely damaged and provided scant fodder for the starving animals. In June the wheat crops failed because of the cold and rain. Hot days in the Midlands were replaced by rain events, one of which in July lasted for 6-8 weeks. Its length prevented farmers from cutting grass in pastures, which caused more hardship for them and their cattle.

Jane Austen commented about the weather in a letter to her niece Anna on June 23, 1816:

“Mrs. Digweed returned yesterday through all the afternoon’s rain, and was of course wet through, but in speaking of it she never once said “it was beyond everything,” which I am sure it must have been.”

While Austen’s remark seemed offhand, poverty and starvation for the poor and working classes became grim:

“The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that in Barnet on Thursday [in July 1816], a Gentleman, happening to go into the market-place, found about 140 poor people literally starving; he ordered them all to be supplied with half a quartern loaf, and to come back next morning for another. On Friday the number that applied for relief was 338, when they got the same bounty. On Saturday morning those (all strangers) who applied were 776, who each received one-third of a quartern loaf, and from the parish a quarter of a pound of cheese each …”

Due to the weather, workers had difficulty finding employment. Understanding their dire situation, money was raised so that the London Association could purchase twenty tons of red herrings. Lord Middleton donated hundreds of tons of coal, and various parishes established soup kitchens and distributed oatmeal to feed the hungry. In addition, night policing was established to address an increase in crime, such as looting.

During the spring of 1817 – the last spring in Jane Austen’s life – the weather was cold and sunless and dry. In June, the month before her death, the UK experienced a heat wave, but then the rains began again toward the end of July. They continued through September and resulted in another failed harvest. The resulting famine led to social protest and violence.

FrankensteinTwo interesting developments resulted from Tambora’s destruction. In the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley rented a house near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. She was only 19 years old at this time. Rainy weather kept the couple and their friends inside their houses, for, as she wrote “it proved a wet, ungenial summer … and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.” One of the friends who rented lodging nearby was Lord Byron. Bored, they competed to write a ghost story and the result was Mary’s Frankenstein, a classic that endures to this day. For the full story of this book’s inception, click on this link to History.com.

The other development was the invention of the early form of the bicycle. The reason for this method of transportation was the astronomical cost of feeding horses. Karl Drais set out to invent a way of getting around without horses or beasts of burden. Made of wood, this contraption came without a brake or pedals, but it could achieve a speed of 10 miles per hour.

Dandy's perambulationsa

Forward momentum was powered by feet. Without the protection of copyright laws, Drais did not make a fortune from his invention, which was initially called the laufmaschine. The Dandy’s Perambulations, a delightful satire written in 1819 and illustrated by Robert Cruikshank, shows the misadventures of two gentlemen out for a ride on their ‘dandy horses.’ Find this 40-page booklet digitized at the Internet Archive.

Dandy's perambulations

A possible third result of Tambora might have been an increase of chilblains among the populace, a painful condition caused by cold and wet conditions. This had been a common symptom among workers and servants who labored outdoors or in drafty kitchens. My guesses are pure speculation, for I’m no scientist or epidemiologist, but I wonder if 3-4 years of prolonged cold and wet weather after Tambora’s eruption might have resulted with chilblains spreading beyond the servant class and working poor.

Housemaids, scullery maids, and laundry maids from that era were particularly susceptible to this affliction due to their unceasing household chores. Exposure to cold, especially in winter, affected fingers, toes, and ears. The treatment required rest, keeping one’s body warm, and wearing dry woolen or cotton socks. No servant, or working class person who toiled outdoors for that matter, had the luxury to strictly follow most of those steps towards a cure. They could attempt to resist scratching their skin and apply witch hazel to reduce the inflammation, but few could rest for days in a dry and warm environment to recover.

In Longbourne, author Jo Baker introduces the reader to Sarah and Holly, two young fictional housemaids who served the Bennet family under their housekeeper Mrs Hill. They performed the drudgery work – scrubbing pots and pans, washing laundry by hand with harsh soaps, and hauling buckets of cold water to scrub floors and kitchen surfaces. Their hands and often their feet were plagued by chilblains that reddened the skin and felt as if their skin was on fire. In the novel, after the militia showed up in Meryton, Sarah was expected to act as the lady’s maid to all five Bennet girls, helping them to get ready for the increase in social events. This meant aggravating the chilblains on her hands, causing more soreness and pain as she spot-cleaned gowns, ironed them, and then dressed the girls’ hair.

Plunging hands repeatedly in cold water, as laundry maids and scullery maids did, irritated their skin, causing itching, red patches, swelling and blistering. This condition also occurred on the feet of people and farmers who walked in rain or wet fields with wet socks and shoes.

winter going north

Mail coaches and stagecoaches placed ‘cheap seat’ passengers on top or outside, leaving them exposed to the elements in rain and snow. Prolonged rains as described in first-hand accounts and cold weather throughout the summer and early fall must have increased the incidences of chilblains in this population. Several decades after Jane Austen’s death, Charlotte Brontë described the winter conditions for the orphaned girls in Lowood school:

“Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet . . .” — Jane Eyre

I searched Austen’s letters in the last years of her life from 1815 to 1817 (Le Faye), but could find only the quote I previously mentioned. It is sad to think that she experienced her final winter, spring, and early summer in such cold and miserable weather. Her hope about her health from autumn 1816 to early January 1817 shone through her surviving letters, and so her optimism about her future must be our consolation.

Sources and articles

Situating 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK, August 2016, Geographical Journal 182(4), Authors: Veale, Lucy and Endfield Georgina. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306042378_Situating_1816_the_’year_without_summer’_in_the_UK

Greshko, Michael (2016) 201 Years Ago, This Volcano Caused a Climate Catastrophe: Indonesia’s Tambora eruption brought on a deadly spate of cooling—presaging the costs that come with sudden changes to climate. National Geographic. 

Blakemore, Erin, ‘Frankenstein’ Was Born During a Ghastly Vacation, History.com, March 12, 2019 (Original, March 9, 2018). Frankenstein Was Born During a Ghastly Vacation:

The Old Farmer’s Almanac: The Year Without a Summer, January 16, 2022.

Images: 

Paintings in the Year Without a Summer, Zachary Hubbard, Philologia

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore,

Volume 2 (of 2), by Charles G. Harper

Laundry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laundry#/media/File:Laundry_1806.PNG 

Maid of all work https://janeaustensworld.com/2009/06/14/regency-servants-maid-of-all-work/

Winter going north https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58668/58668-h/58668-h.htm#ip_165

One bookshop. Fifty-one rules. Three women who break them all.

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, has gifted us with her newest book, Bloomsbury Girls, just in time for summer! It’s a compelling and heartwarming story of a century-old bookstore and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.

Book Description:

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances–most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time–Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others–these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

Purchase the Book HERE

My Review

Bloomsbury Girls is the perfect read for those of us who love a story that’s set in a bookstore and is filled with books and bookish people. As I began to read, it first reminded me of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a slim volume that is forever memorable for most of us who have read it and/or seen the film. I enjoy books where the setting (the house, the shop, the city) is so special and memorable that it becomes like another character in the reader’s mind. In Jenner’s novel, Bloomsbury Books itself is a very much alive and poignant character–and one I enjoyed immensely.

Beyond the setting and the great bibliophile feels the book provides, Jenner has done an exquisite job of weaving together a beautiful cast of characters and their individual stories. There is depth and complexity to each character, each couple, each department head, each story arc.

Finally, the storylines surrounding the three lead female characters are delightfully drawn. I found myself intrigued by each one, enjoying their individual stories as well as the bigger plot at hand. When they begin to work together and their stories begin to tie together and intertwine, it’s intriguing and delightful. The things they accomplish when they link arms is truly inspiring.

Overall, this is a fun, summery read filled with all the good things I love most. I hope you’ll stop in and visit Bloomsbury Books. Though it may seem like an ordinary British bookstore at first glance, there is so much more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

Audiobook

If you have a long car trip ahead, or if you prefer to listen to your books while you work, the audio version of this book promises to be incredible. Acclaimed actor and narrator Juliet Stevenson, CBE, narrated the audiobook for Bloomsbury Girls, with a performance that has been called “vocal virtuosity.”

Stevenson is best known for her roles in Emma, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Bend it Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile, Being Julia, and Infamous. She is also the BAFTA-nominated and Olivier Award-winning star of many Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre productions. Regarded as one of the finest audiobook narrators working today, Stevenson’s other recent narrations include Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia and the collected works of Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier.

Listen to the beginning of the audiobook here:

Stream Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner, audiobook introduction from MacmillanAudio | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

About the Author

NATALIE JENNER is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller, and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.



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 Devotional, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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.

____________________

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.

Book's coverStrictly speaking the oficial Regency lasted from 1811 to 1820, but the author, Ian Mortimer, takes the reader on a journey to Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland – from 1789 to 1830, a time period that is in line with most other historians, literary critics and antiques experts.

This book achieves something unique – a historian’s perspective written in a style of writing that is exciting to read. I did indeed feel like a time traveller as I was taken through the British countryside, Brighton, London, and Manchester. Mortimer touches all aspects of British life – from the vitality of the era, expansion of cities, and the explosion of scientific advances, trade, transportation, and the island’s population. Mortimer describes both the good and the bad effects of the industrial revolution, and the results of enclosures in England on farmers with small farms and of the Highland clearances on Scottish crofters.

The era’s glittering lifestyle is not neglected and the author takes advantage of the journals and accounts of contemporary eyewitnesses. This is Karl Moritz’z impression of the rotunda in Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea (1810):

“On my entry I mixed with this crowd, and what with the constant changing of the faces around me (most of them strikingly beautiful), the illuminations, the majesty and splendour of the place, and the ever-present strains of music, I felt for a moment as a child would on first looking into a fairy-tale.”

Above: Two images included in the book. Hover cursor over them for details.

Mortimer contrasts this memory with the description of a winter in London some twenty years later. Coal fires in London so polluted the air that soot floated without falling, and the fog and smoke darkened the skies even at noon.

As the rich built grand houses or renovated outdated mansions, and hired Capability Brown or Humphrey Repton to transform their grounds, many poor people suffered, for few resources or improvements were provided for them. Liverpool’s houses for migrant workers were designed in such a way as to provide no comfort or cleanliness. Two privies might serve two or three hundred people. The overcrowding was so severe that the population density was estimated at 777 per acre. So many other topics are covered: science, medicine and health; pleasure gardens and entertainments; occupations; food and drink; clothing; etc.

Time traveAfter reading this book, I had a comprehensive overview of the Regency era and recommend it to anyone interested in this period. Amazon Kindle edition (See cover to the right) offers a sample of the book’s Introduction, and Chapters 1 & 2 in full.

About the Author:

Ian-MortimerDr Ian Mortimer has been described by The Times newspaper as ‘the most remarkable medieval historian of our time’. He is best known as the author of The Time Traveller’s Guides: to Medieval England (2008); to Elizabethan England (2012); to Restoration Britain (2017); and to Regency Britain (2020). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and has published research in academic journals touching on every century from the twelfth to the twentieth. For more information, see http://www.ianmortimer.com

By Brenda S. Cox

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” –Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, Sept. 8, 1816

Last month we talked about Austen’s first cousins, particularly Edward Cooper, son of Jane’s mother’s sister. He became a clergyman like Jane’s father and Edward’s father. Edward was a strong Evangelical, and he and Jane did not always see eye to eye.

Evangelicals in the Church of England

The Evangelical* movement in the Church of England started early in the 1700s. While some evangelicals left the Church of England, others stayed within it. (We use a capital “E” for this movement within the Church of England at that time.) In general, evangelicals stress the centrality of the Bible and of Christ’s death on the cross to redeem sinful people, the need for a personal conversion experience, and Christians’ responsibility to actively lead others toward Christ and do good in the world. These are the messages Edward Cooper and other Evangelicals preached. 

The most famous Evangelical of Austen’s time was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce and other Christians, especially Evangelicals, led the fight against the slave trade, supported campaigns to educate the poor in England, and much more. (While modern evangelicals may be associated with certain political stances, evangelicals in Austen’s England were associated with these issues instead: education for the poor, the campaign against the slave trade and slavery, and others.)

Cooper’s Sermons and Jane Austen’s Responses

In Jane Austen’s time, many clergymen published their sermons. Sermons were popular reading, as well as providing preaching material for other clergymen. Austen enjoyed reading books of sermons. Cooper published a number of volumes of his sermons. Apparently, though, Jane and Cassandra didn’t like them much. In 1809 (Jan. 17), she commented,

“Miss M. conveys to us a third volume of sermons, from Hamstall, just published, and which we are to like better than the two others; they are professedly practical, and for the use of country congregations.”

This was Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons Designed for Parochial and Domestic Instruction(meaning for reading at home and for preaching to churches), first published in 1809. The earlier volumes were one in 1803 criticizing the practice of the militia drilling on Sundays (a day of rest), and then Sermons, Chiefly Designed to Elucidate Some of the Leading Doctrines of the Gospel (1804).

Where did Jane differ from those “leading doctrines” of Evangelical preaching? Evangelicals taught that people needed a conscious, personal conversion experience, a regeneration or rebirth, to become true Christians. Other Anglicans believed that growth in faith was gradual through life, beginning with a person’s baptism as an infant; this was probably Austen’s belief.  Both groups believed that throughout life the person needed to trust in Christ, repent when they sinned, and ask God’s help to live a good life. Edward Cooper’s hymn, “Father of Heaven,” which is still sung today, asks God for His “pardoning love.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons, which Jane Austen was to “like better than the two others.”

This theological disagreement partly explains Jane’s reaction to a later book which includes two of Edward’s sermons. It’s been speculated that the “we” here might refer to the rest of her family, perhaps to her mother and brother’s opinion more than to her own. But still she does include herself:

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” (Sept. 8, 1816).

This refers to Two Sermons Preached . . . at Wolverhampton Preparatory to the Establishment of a Bible Institution (1816). I was surprised to find that these sermons do not use the word regeneration, and conversion is used only once (with convert used two further times). However, the concepts are implied.

Cooper does talk about the world’s need for the gospel and for the Bible. Jane Austen apparently did not disagree with these goals. In her third prayer, she wrote,

“May thy [God’s] mercy be extended over all Mankind, bringing the Ignorant to the knowledge of thy Truth, awakening the Impenitent, touching the Hardened.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s sermons for the Bible Society, which Austen found too full of “regeneration and conversion.”

The SPCK and the Bible Society

So, why would Austen object to Cooper’s supporting the Bible Society? She and her family supported a different institution that distributed the Bible, the SPCK. In fact, Jane herself contributed half a guinea, a substantial amount of her income, to this organization in 1813.

The SPCK, or Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, is a Church of England organization that published and sold Christian literature at that time. However, many felt that they were not supplying enough Bibles in different languages (specifically Welsh, at the beginning), and so the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed.

The Bible Society included both Anglicans and Dissenters (people in other denominations). Because of this, they published and distributed only Bibles, with no commentary (which might support one set of doctrines over another). The SPCK produced the Book of Common Prayer and other materials explaining the Bible from an Anglican perspective. There was some tension or competition between these two groups.

Both societies formed auxiliary groups in various areas to support their work. According to Irene Collins, in 1813, both organizations set up branches in Basingstoke, in the Austens’ part of the country. James Austen, Jane’s brother, organized and spoke at the initial meeting of the SPCK. The Lefroy family, old friends of the Austens’, were leaders of the rival Bible Society auxiliary started at almost the same time.

A copy of James’s speech for the SPCK has been preserved. He said that the SPCK was better than the Bible Society, because along with the Bible it distributed commentaries and the Book of Common Prayer (the “Liturgy”). He explained,

“It [the SPCK] not only puts the Bible in a poor man’s hand, but provides him with the best means of understanding it.”

However, he also said that those supporting the Bible Society did so from “the purest and best of motives,” and encouraged them to support both organizations. He complimented the Bible Society, saying its “exertions” had produced “extreme good.” He called for a spirit of unity in the area and a spirit of “candour”—which meant assuming the best of one another. The speech is gentle and conciliatory; a good model for today’s controversies.

Jane Austen and the Evangelicals

So, Jane Austen had some disagreements with her Evangelical cousin Edward Cooper, and didn’t much like his sermons. However, Cooper had an Evangelical friend in neighbouring Yoxall, Rev. Thomas Gisborne. Both Cooper and Gisborne were involved with Wilberforce in working for the abolition of the slave trade. 

Austen did enjoy Gisborne’s work. In 1805, she told Cassandra,

“I am glad you recommended ‘Gisborne,’ for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it” (Aug. 30, 1805).

The book was probably An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex

In Austen’s letters, she made two specific mentions of the Evangelicals. On Jan. 24, 1809, she wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” She was telling her sister that she did not want to read a new book by Hannah More, a popular Evangelical author. She went on to say, “Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people,” so she doesn’t seem to be very serious. My guess is that she did not like More’s style, which is didactic, clearly teaching lessons through her story. Austen preferred to tell a good story and let readers come to their own conclusions.

Later, on Nov. 18, 1814, she had a serious discussion with her niece Fanny Knight about marrying a man who was leaning toward Evangelicalism. She wrote, “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” So at that point, though she was not Evangelical herself, she admired them.

Austen’s beloved brother Henry later became an Evangelical preacher himself. But he still wrote about his sister, in the introduction to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion:

“She was thoroughly religious and devout . . . On serious [religious] subjects she was well-instructed, both by reading and meditation, and her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.”

While some have claimed that he was exaggerating here, at the time being “religious” was not necessarily popular. Jane Austen did not always agree with her cousin Edward’s theology or style of writing, but it seems to me that she was serious about her faith, as he was.

 

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written a book called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England, which she hopes will be available by the end of this year.

*Note that “Evangelical” and “evangelism” are two different things, though people sometimes get them confused. Evangelicals, the focus of the article above, were and are groups of Christians with certain common beliefs. Evangelism  means people sharing their religious beliefs with other people.

For Further Reading

Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 1

Edward Cooper, Wolverhampton Sermons, Jan. 1, 1816.

Jocelyn Harris, “Jane Austen and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,” Persuasions 34: 134-139. 

Irene Collins, “’Too Much Zeal for the Bible Society: Jane Austen, Her Family, and the Religious Quarrels of Her Time,” Jane Austen Society Reports, Collected Reports Vol. 6 (2001-2005): 21-38. This article explains the rivalry and cooperation between the Bible Society and the S.P.C.K. in Austen’s community, and Jane’s theological differences with her cousin Edward Cooper. 

Gaye King, “Jane Austen’s Staffordshire Cousin: Edward Cooper and His Circle,” Persuasions 1993 

Gaye King, “Visiting Edward Cooper,” Persuasions 1987 

Donald Greene, “Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” Persuasions 1985 (Includes a photo of the rectory where Jane and her family visited Edward and his family)

Come and Visit Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin,” Jane Austen House Museum blog, Sept. 17, 2012, Edward’s portrait 

Edward Cooper as a hymn writer 

Edward Cooper’s letter to Jane April 6, 1817 (article also includes commentary on the letter)

Jane Austen in the Midlands,” scroll down for a section on Cooper. 

’Cruel Comfort’: A Reading of the Theological Critique in Sense and Sensibility,” Kathleen James-Cavan (springboards from Jane’s comment on Edward Cooper into the ideas in S&S) Persuasions On-Line 32.2 (2012) 

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed. (p. 262 says Henry Austen became an Evangelical clergyman)

Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed.

Laura Dabundo, Jane Austen: A Companion

Irene Collins, “Displeasing Pictures of Clergymen,” Persuasions 18 (1996): 110.

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

Inquiring readers, I caution those who unconditionally love Sanditon, the TV edition, that this belated review is guided by my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. My fingers had no choice but to obey its command, for my brain is still processing what I saw. I must admit to liking this season more than the previous one, for it has lost almost all pretensions of adhering to Austen’s last work.

________

Well, here we go again, just when I thought Sanditon had been laid to rest with Sydney Parker leaving poor Charlotte to marry his rich bride in order to save brother Tom, the series rears its confused head once more. Thanks (or no thanks) to the pleading of millions of devoted fans, the streaming services of Britbox and PBS ordered up two more seasons. Andrew Davies’ S 1 deviated so much from Jane Austen’s unfinished novel in both plot and character that I rolled on the floor with laughter, or wept copiously from the changes the writers made, most notably with Sir Edward Denham’s egregious transformation from an insufferable but clueless literature spouting buffoon (with social aspirations) to a ruthless villain.

This year, the writers left any semblance of Jane’s intentions behind (well, they had no choice) and embarked on a plot more in Georgette Heyer’s style, with a nod to Austen here and there. Don’t get me wrong. I love Heyer’s novels and have read them all. She is historically accurate and, unlike Jane, detailed in her descriptions of countenances and expressions, architecture, fashions, carriages, and landscapes. Heyer’s heroes, heroines, villains, and villaineses are a delight to visit for a few hours of entertainment, but I don’t reread her novels over and over. (As a friend once remarked, her books are great to read when on vacation or in need of some light entertainment.) Most of Heyer’s characters follow stereotypes and one can almost tell from the start how their trajectories will lead to their logical end.

Jane Austen, on the other hand, has given me something new and fresh to ponder throughout the stages of my life. These days I reread her novels with a renewed understanding, and former cherished passages and novels have made a place for new favorites.

This season, a few cast members — Sydney Parker, Lord Babington, and Young Stringer — have left Sanditon for other favorable acting shores. New characters, notably Alison Heywood as Charlotte’s younger sister; a group of 100 red-coated militia led by Colonel Francis Lennox; and a reclusive widower, Mr Alexander Colbourne, who is distant from his young daughter, Leonora (Leo), and orphaned niece, Augusta Markham, spiff up the plot.

It’s been some years since Sanditon graced our screens. Season 1 left loyal viewers robbed of a happily-ever-after ending for Charlotte. When that season’s last episode ended, I yelled, ‘What the Fudge!’ and threw popcorn at my screen. Unhappy viewers, in a tizzy of persuasive letter writing, aided Davies in his campaign to extend Sanditon’s seasons from 1 to 3. (Britbox and PBS are paying the moolah up front.)

This season, Tom Parker’s vision of a successful seaside resort has come to life. Ugly scaffolds, unsightly structures, and the sound of incessant hammering have given way to pastel colored houses and a variety of shops that line a wide seaside promenade, whose center boasts a picturesque pavilion or band stand. Below are two images I took of my TV screen. Please hover your cursor over them for a description.

Sanditon’s journey from a working fisherman’s village has been transformed into a respectable Georgian seaside resort. (Such improvements in cities, towns, and villages all over England were common between the 1790s and 1830s. Roads were widened and straightened to accommodate carriages; and in many cases markets were moved from urban centers to outlying areas, so that new citizens living in the “smart” part of town were not subjected to the incessant sound of clopping hooves and bellowing animals, or the smell of their droppings as drovers marched them to their final destination.)

The camera lovingly pans to visitors parading past buildings and chatting in groups… but, I ask myself, why is no one entering those seaside shops or emerging from them? Are they mere facades to make us think such a town exists? The answer, had I known it existed before wasting my time speculating, lies in the video at the bottom of this review.

Episode One:

The first scene opens with a coffin lowered into the ground in a tropical location; the camera then pans to Charlotte having the time of her life dancing in a barn. She’s wearing a white muslin gown and laughs gaily. Her hair remains wild and unbound as a handsome young man looks on. ‘Oooooh’, I think, now there’s a feast for a maid’s eye and perhaps a new suitor. Drat. That was his first and last appearance. He’s mentioned briefly later by Charlotte’s sister, but not in a way that would get our hopes up, for he is a mere yeoman farmer admired by Char’s parents.

Mary Parker, dressed in black, appears suddenly to talk to Charlotte. Drums roll ominously in my mind as our poor Char learns that Sydney is dead and buried in Antigua.

We next observe an excited Alison Heywood, Charlotte’s younger sister, sitting beside her in a carriage. Both wear their hair loose and wild under their bonnets. Tsk. Tsk. Even Mills and Boon authors know better than to make such a fashion faux pas. As was stated in Season 1, Sanditon screen writers merely wanted to show the Heywood girls as natural, unaffected beauties. But, hey, why not try for some historical accuracy?

Sanditon S2

MASTERPIECE “Sanditon” Season 2 – Premieres Sunday, March 20, 2022 at 9/8c on MASTERPIECE on PBS – promo Shown: Charlotte Heywood (ROSE WILLIAMS) For editorial use only. Photographer: James Pardon (C) Red Planet (Sanditon 2) Ltd

The contrast between the sisters is obvious in their personalities, as well as their hair color. At the prospect of visiting Sanditon, Alison’s eyes sparkle as eager as a puppy’s and she practically twitches with excitement. Charlotte’s demeanor is world-weary. The oldest child in the family, she’s had to grow up fast and, while she’s still a practical woman, her optimism has been severely tried. The sisters are visiting Tom and Mary Parker for the summer. Trafalgar House, the Parker’s abode, now stands amidst spruced up buildings sporting facades of soft white stone a la Bath and Brighton.

This visit is meant to lift Charlotte’s spirits, but, let’s face it, the reminders of falling in love with Sydney and then enduring the humiliation of his leaving will haunt her while she lives in that resort town. (I find Sidney’s voice overs a bit creepy when Charlotte recalls him. This is the actor’s only appearance and explains his inclusion in this episode’s credits.)

Meanwhile, Georgiana Lambe has turned into a feisty young thing. Her internal radar can spot a fortune hunter from 100 paces away, and her treatment of hopeful swains is uncommonly rude. Mary Parker, who escorts her (whenever Miss Beatrice Hankins, the rector’s sister, cannot), is worried that unless Georgiana tones down her rebuffs, she will burn too many manly bridges behind her. Miss Lambe feels that she has the upper hand, for she has a massive fortune and her swains do not. They’re the beggars; she’s the chooser. Besides, she’s aware that the power she now holds over them will disappear once she marries. My alarm antenna begins to buzz slightly. What do the writers have in store for her? But I’m distracted by the thought that her hair is covered by a bonnet. That’s at least one young lady who still follows proper sartorial conventions.

Georgiana’s story line includes Charles Lockhart, an artist who pursues her to paint her authentic portrait. He demonstrates his bohemian side early, strutting from the beach to the promenade with an open robe that leaves his puny chest bare in the presence of ladies. Not a good look or introduction, but a typical Davies hallmark.

The scene switches to a forest where a company of 100 men in red and white uniforms arrive on horseback or in wagons carting equipment. Colonel Lennox, a manly man with a stern visage, heads the unit astride his beautiful steed. Alongside the colonel we glimpse Edward Denham, the slime ball cast out by Lady Denham and disinherited from her fortune. Drums beat an ominous rhythm in my brain, and I wonder, “What the Dr Fuchs is he doing there!?”

The Parker brothers (not of the Monopoly game) are once again in the center of town at the center of the plot. Mary, Tom’s wife, plays a more prominent role this season as a chaperone and sounding board. Arthur is featured more positively – not so much as a bumbler, but as a supporter of Tom and Georgiana. His presence adds sweet comedic touches and always brightens a scene, but his optimism is both a curse and a blessing, as we shall see in future episodes. In one important discussion with his bro, Arthur promotes a Theatre Royal as the next major building to develop, but Tom, worried about finances, cannot afford to gamble (hah!) and hopes to convince the militia to build a permanent barracks near town. (Colonel Lennox fought at Waterloo in 1815. Austen wrote her novel fragment in 1817, when the militia still defended British shores, but in considerably diminished numbers.)

We soon see Lady Denham again and she has not changed a smidgen. She’s still a Lady-Catherine-de-Bourgh-lite character, looking down at one and all, and knowing more than anyone about everything. Her clothes are so similar to those she’s worn before that I wonder if the wardrobe department is ‘gasp’ recycling costumes. She’s Tom Parker’s primary investor in Sanditon, or so she believes. One can imagine her delight over the town’s booming business, but for how long?

A short scene shows her heaping 5-6-7, well, 3 teaspoons of sugar into a tiny cup of tea. Sugar addict, anyone? Why show this scene? Curious minds want to know.

Lady Esther Babington, who I shall henceforth name Lady Bab, seems as strangely sad as Charlotte. Why? She’s rich, she’s a bonafide lady (uhm…let’s just say that her way to that exalted position was a bit circuitous), but she lives in fine houses and wants for nothing. Plus she’s Lady D’s heiress. What worries could beset her to put her in such doldrums, other than that Lord Bab is nowhere to be found?

We find her sitting in church, as sad-faced as a hound dog, when Miss Hankins and her brother, the ever forgettable Reverend Hankins, encounter her. After a cryptic conversation, Lady Bab leaves. Miss Beatrice follows her and tells her she “recognizes her need,” and suggests that she visit Mrs Potter, a midwife who helps women who have ‘struggled.’ Uh, oh, methinks, here’s another plot development.

We discover Lady Bab’s problem soon enough when Dr Fuchs attends to her, after huffing and puffing up three sets of stairs. Lady Bab, had followed Beatrice’s advice and is wan from swallowing the midwife’s crazy concoctions. She can barely lift her head from her pillow and has summoned Dr Fuchs, despite Lady D’s protestations that the man is USELESS!

We learn that Lady Bab’s first pregnancy ended badly 5 1/2 months into gestation, and that her baby girl did not survive. She was also warned that a second pregnancy could possibly be fatal. Dr Fuchs (rhymes with nooks, not mucks) promises to do his best. Lady Bab, grasping at anything that might help her produce a child, begs Dr F to prepare a tincture for her condition. Uh oh. Does she really mean for Dr Fuchs to work as a chemist? My plot development antennas are on full alert.

Next, a cocky disinherited Edward saunters into Lady D’s mansion to apologize for past misbehaviors and to avow he’s seen the error of his ways. Lady D, no fool she, tells him to keep his mitts off Lady Bab and to leave them alone. As he withdraws from the house, he sees Lady Bab on the stairway and with his usual unctuous B.S. tries to sweet talk her. She doesn’t believe a lying word he says and orders him to leave her the H alone.

Meanwhile, a grieving Charlotte decides that the only recourse open to her after Sidney’s death – for with him went all her hopes, dreams, and aspirations – is to become a governess. Now, those of us who have read Austen and Heyer novels, and Mills & Boon pulp romances, know that this is one of the worst situations for a lady. A governess is neither here nor there – not a servant nor part of the family – she’s simply a nebbish, a nobody, a “baby in the corner” (Reference to Dirty Dancing) as Augusta Markham reminds her in Episode 2, but I get ahead of myself.

Char’s decision upsets her sister Alison, who looks forward to parties, balls, and long promenades with handsome young men, and introductions to a potential husband, (for what is a woman without a man beside becoming a useless spinster, especially if that woman is poor with few prospects)? Alison wants her pretty sister as a companion, not some wannabe governess, which would be a “bad” look, but Charlotte remains firm in her conviction to earn her own way as an independent woman.

For show, the Colonel’s company arranges a dramatic military parade through town to announce their stay for the summer. Loving a spectacle, citizens and visitors line the promenade. The colonel and his men look suitably splendid. Lady D and Lady Bab pay court to friends and acquaintances in the pavilion/band stand. Georgiana and supporters hand out anti-sugar leaflets to the crowd, for our young heiress resents that her fortune was made on the backs of hard-working slaves.

(Please hover your cursor over the images for a description.)

A child dressed in uniform shadows the company; a teenage girl follows her unobserved. It turns out the child is a tomboy named Leonora and the girl is her cousin, Augusta. In her excitement, Leonora steps in front of the horses and Char jumps in to save her. This heroic action attracts the eye of Colonel Lennox, who admires her bravery. Char, no wuss, avows that anyone with some gumption would have done the same thing, which intrigues him.

And so we see Char in the Parker’s carriage taking two surly children home. Neither is particularly grateful, but Charlotte knows a thing or two about unruly young-uns. She knocks on the door and is greeted by the housekeeper, Mrs Wheatley, a dignified woman from the West Indies. After a short conversation, the housekeeper mentions that the master is looking for yet another governess. “They seem to drop like flies. Go figure.” A sudden idea strikes Charlotte – “Mon dieu! I could apply for this position and teach these ungovernable children as badly as any governess!” She returns to Sanditon excited.

Before you can say “hire”, Char, carrying her portfolio, returns to Mr Colbourne’s mansion on foot for an interview. The gardens and path towards the house are beautiful and suitably grand. Mrs Wheatley ushers Charlotte to her master’s study. Mr Colbourne, a handsome enough man, but not off-puttingly so, seldom looks up from his desk as he tests Charlotte in her knowledge of maths, geography, French, ladies deportments, and the like. (I would have been turned away after maths.)

He questions her background and abilities, thereby raising her hackles. AS IF he’s had any success keeping a governess for a mere fortnight! While Char might not have the boarding school qualifications for this position, she oversaw the studies of 11 younger siblings, thank you very much. When Colbourne sniffs at that bit of news and questions her further, Miss Char, who’s arrived with no references, decides she’s had enough of this obnoxious interview and of his opinions, especially when he demands that his girls receive a tepid education in embroidery, dance, and deportment, for those are the only qualities a wife needs. Char tells him what for and that every young lady deserves a REAL education. She grabs her portfolio and walks off in a huff.

We next see her walking along a beautiful shoreline when, in a minute, 5 minutes or 15 minutes or so, Mr Colbourne catches up with her on horseback and asks, “You left too early. When can you start?”

“Uh, like when do you want me?”

“ASAP.”

When he turns to leave, Charlotte slaps a high five in the air and imagines her parents shouting, “You go girl!”

Meanwhile, another rebellious young woman, Miss Lambe “borrows” a carriage from a wanna be suitor she’s already rejected and enlists young Alison Heywood to join her in watching the soldiers on the beach. The girl, delighted with the invitation, hops on board.

As they approach the soldiers at breakneck speed, Georgiana loses control of the horse. An axle gives way, tossing poor young Alison on her keister. Q’uelle horreure! A buff soldier approaches. Young. Blonde. Handsome. He proffers his hand and raises her up with such tenderness and manners, that cupid’s arrow instantly strikes Alison’s heart.

My JA copycat sensor is on alert, for this scene is remarkably similar to Willoughby’s manly rescue of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. That young girl, too, was instantly smitten with her hero. To be honest, Willoughby’s carrying a well-fed Marianne over a great stretch of land required more muscular effort than Captain Carter’s gallantry of proffering his hand and pulling Ms Alison up from her keister, but who am I to judge? How can one pit a robust JA Willoughby against a Davies Willoughby-light and come up with a just verdict?

Then I asked myself: Did Georgiana also fall on her bum? And who rescued HER? And who tended to that poor dear horse? Informed minds were left wondering, for the camera panned to a new scene.

At the last, we learn from Tom that, after reading a letter he recently received from Antigua, Sidney’s interests were on Georgiana’s behalf. As Episode One ends, we are left in anticipation and on the edge of our chairs, seats, or sofas for the next installment. I drain a last glass of wine. Drat! As I look over my schedule, my reviews shall have to continue in early June.

More on Episode One

On set with Arthur Parker:

Had I known of this video, I would not have spent so much time figuring out when I was viewing CGI enhanced sets or real locations, or a combination of both. I had figured out that the shops lining the High Street along the promenade were fronts. I could see no one entering or leaving through the door. Actors walked along the promenade, lounged against walls, or chatted in groups. Some even stood outside on balconies. Not a one walked in or out, except for the Parker family, who entered Trafalgar House and exited from it. This video will show you what’s inside that hallway! And how the beach and ocean are CGI’d in.

Another review

Funny review from GBH Boston PBS – Worth the read!

Regarding Comments

Gentle readers, feel free to agree or disagree with me or others in your comments, but please remain respectful of each others’ opinions. Thank you for your support and thoughtfulness. This blog has provided a safe haven for comments by Janeites across the world. Respectfully yours, Vic

What’s in a voice? According to recent research, quite a lot. In her article “Only 4 Syllables Needed to Recognize Voice,” Madeline McConnell says humans can identify familiar voices in as few as four syllables, or two words. That’s better than some of the most advanced voice recognition software available today.

Here’s how it works in everyday life: Spouses can recognize their mate’s voice across a crowded room. From a young age, “babies are able to distinguish the voice of their mothers from the voices of others” (McConnell). And close friends can hear one another’s voices from an adjacent room.

In the case of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, a word uttered by anyone else truly would not sound so sweet. The way they actively listen to one another—often without speaking directly to one another—plays a crucial role in repairing their relationship, rebuilding their trust, and rekindling their love.

Anne Listens

Throughout the novel, Austen gives us many important clues about Wentworth’s true feelings for Anne, often through what Anne hears (and overhears) him say. As Anne listens and hopes, she strains to catch hints of Wentworth’s true opinion of her now, to either “its constancy or its change” (Ch. 4). Here are a few key examples of Anne intent listening:

  • When they meet: “Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice.” (Ch. 7)
  • As she listens to his review of the past: “‘That happened before I went to sea in the year six,’ occurred in the course of the first evening they spent together: and though his voice did not falter, and though she had no reason to suppose his eye wandering towards her while he spoke, Anne felt the utter impossibility, from her knowledge of his mind, that he could be unvisited by remembrance any more than herself. There must be the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain.” (Ch. 8)
  • Her discernment of the voice and mind she knows so well: “When he talked, she heard the same voice, and discerned the same mind.” (Ch. 8)
  • Her keen interest in the “low voice” on the other end of the sofa: “[I]n another moment he was perfectly collected and serious, and almost instantly afterwards coming up to the sofa, on which she and Mrs Musgrove were sitting, took a place by the latter, and entered into conversation with her, in a low voice, about her son, doing it with so much sympathy and natural grace . . .” (Ch. 8)
  • Her reaction to overhearing Wentworth, “in the hedge-row, behind her,” walking and talking with Louisa: “The listener’s proverbial fate was not absolutely hers; she had heard no evil of herself, but she had heard a great deal of very painful import.” (Ch. 10)
  • Her reaction to him “speaking with a glow, and yet a gentleness” to her: “She coloured deeply, and he recollected himself and moved away. She expressed herself most willing, ready, happy to remain.” (Ch. 12)
  • Her intense focus on his words and the sound of his voice: “Whether he would have proceeded farther was left to Anne’s imagination to ponder over in a calmer hour; for while still hearing the sounds he had uttered, she was startled to other subjects by Henrietta, eager to make use of the present leisure for getting out, and calling on her companions to lose no time, lest somebody else should come in. (Ch. 22)

And here especially, we see Anne’s ability to “distinguish” Wentworth’s words even in the midst of a noisy room, when he says, “A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman. He ought not; he does not.”

Either from the consciousness, however, that his friend had recovered, or from other consciousness, [Wentworth] went no farther; and Anne who, in spite of the agitated voice in which the latter part had been uttered, and in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, had distinguished every word, was struck, gratified, confused, and beginning to breathe very quick, and feel an hundred things in a moment. (Ch. 20)

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Wentworth Listens

This keen sense of listening doesn’t just go one way. Even when he doesn’t look at her, Wentworth listens carefully to Anne. At the end of the novel, we discover the extent to which he has listened to her conversations with others and tried to discern her feelings:

  • When the topic of Mr. Elliot comes up: “As she spoke, she felt that Captain Wentworth was looking at her, the consciousness of which vexed and embarrassed her, and made her regret that she had said so much, simple as it was.” (Ch. 22)
  • When Charles says “What is Mr. Elliot to me?” and Anne realizes that Wentworth is “all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself.” (Ch. 22)
  • How carefully Wentworth listens to Anne’s response to Charles: “She had spoken it; but she trembled when it was done, conscious that her words were listened to, and daring not even to try to observe their effect.” (Ch. 22)
  • Wentworth’s reaction to the topic of parents becoming involved in long or “uncertain” engagements: “Anne found an unexpected interest here. She felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her; and at the same moment that her eyes instinctively glanced towards the distant table, Captain Wentworth’s pen ceased to move, his head was raised, pausing, listening, and he turned round the next instant to give a look, one quick, conscious look at her.” (Ch. 23)
  • When Wentworth tunes in to Anne’s conversation with Captain Harville about love affairs and constancy of heart between the sexes: “a slight noise called their attention to Captain Wentworth’s hitherto perfectly quiet division of the room. It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down; but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed, and half inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught.” (Ch. 23)

The most stunning piece of evidence is Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne, which he drafts while listening to her conversation with Captain Harville:

I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. (Ch. 23)

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Wentworth’s words reveal that he was not only listening carefully to Anne during the letter-writing scene, but that he has been listening to her throughout the novel. Indeed, Anne’s voice is something like a siren call to the seafaring Captain Wentworth. No matter how hard he has tried to forget her, he has “never seen a woman since whom he thought her equal” and has only “imagined himself indifferent” (Ch. 23).

Rekindled Love

Though Anne and Wentworth’s initial courtship was brief, and though they have not seen each other for many long years, Austen shows us the depth of their true feelings through what they say (and don’t say). While this article only covers some of the most pointed examples of the subtle communication between these two characters, a close reading of the novel reveals so much more. Austen shows us throughout the novel—through gestures, looks, and glances—just how aware they both are of one another in every scene, in every room, and in every situation.

Indeed, Austen builds much of the romantic tension between Anne and Wentworth based more on what they say to other people than on what they say to one another. Throughout the novel, she uses listening and, yes, eavesdropping, as a clever literary technique. As Anne listens in on Wentworth’s conversations, analyzing his every word, phrase, tone, and inflection, we listen in as well, gathering clues as we go. And as she begins to dare to hope, so do we.

The art of listening well in Persuasion plays an important role in reigniting an old flame, rekindling lost love, and soothing broken hearts, helping to make Anne and Wentworth “more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected.”

What other moments have you noticed in this novel or another Austen novel when listening closely was important to the plot?


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. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

By Brenda S. Cox

“I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other.”—Jane Austen, letter to Anna Lefroy, Nov. 29, 1814

Austen’s First Cousins

Jane Austen was closely connected to her three first cousins: Eliza, Edward, and Jane. (She had additional cousins from her father’s half-brother, William Hampson Walter, though she doesn’t seem to have been as close to them.)

Eliza: Her father’s sister Philadelphia had one daughter, lively Eliza Hancock de Feuillide. Eliza, whose first husband was guillotined in the French Revolution, later married Jane’s brother Henry.

Jane: Jane’s mother’s sister (also named Jane) married a clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Edward Cooper. They had two children, Edward and another Jane. That Jane, Jane Leigh Cooper, went away to school for a time with Jane and Cassandra Austen. Her letter home from Southampton told their parents that the girls were seriously ill with typhus. Mrs. Austen and Mrs. Cooper came and took them home. The girls all survived, but, sadly, Mrs. Cooper caught the illness and died. Jane and Edward Cooper spent a lot of time with the Austen family. Jane was even married at Steventon, to a naval captain, Captain Williams, who was later knighted. Charles Austen served under him in the Navy. Tragically, Jane Cooper, by then called Lady Williams, died in a carriage accident in 1798.

Edward: Edward Cooper, Jane Cooper’s brother, became a clergyman like his father. He is mentioned frequently in Jane Austen’s letters. In her first two existing letters (Jan. 9 and 14, 1796), she talks about his visit to Steventon with his young son and daughter.

Edward Cooper, Clergyman

Many of Jane Austen’s friends and relatives were clergymen (estimated at over a hundred, including of course her father and two of her brothers). She held strong opinions on church livings. When Edward got his living, she wrote (Jan. 21, 1799):

Yesterday came a letter to my mother from Edward Cooper to announce, not the birth of a child, but of a living; for Mrs. Leigh [a relative, the Hon. Mary Leigh, of Stoneleigh] has begged his acceptance of the Rectory of Hamstall-Ridware in Staffordshire, vacant by Mr. Johnson’s death. We collect from his letter that he means to reside there, in which he shows his wisdom.

Staffordshire is a good way off [about 140 miles]; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls. The living is valued at £140 a year, but perhaps it may be improvable. How will they be able to convey the furniture of the dressing-room so far in safety?

Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast. One is incorporated into the family [Eliza de Feuillide], another dies [Jane Cooper, Lady Williams], and a third [Edward Cooper] goes into Staffordshire.  [Brackets added.]

Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Hamstall Ridware, where Jane Austen’s cousin Edward Cooper served as rector.
Bs0u10e01, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jane commented that Edward intended “to reside” at his living, which showed “his wisdom.” At this time, many clergy hired curates to serve their livings rather than residing in them and doing the work themselves. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram makes a strong statement about residing at one’s living:

“A parish has wants and claims which can be known only by a clergyman constantly resident, and which no proxy can be capable of satisfying to the same extent. Edmund might, in the common phrase, do the duty of Thornton, that is, he might read prayers and preach, without giving up Mansfield Park: he might ride over every Sunday, to a house nominally inhabited, and go through divine service; he might be the clergyman of Thornton Lacey every seventh day, for three or four hours, if that would content him. But it will not. He knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey; and that if he does not live among his parishioners, and prove himself, by constant attention, their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own.”–Mansfield Park, ch. 25

Austen also mentioned that Edward might be able to “improve” his living. That means he might increase his income by negotiating for higher tithe payments from the farmers or leasing extra farmland, as Austen’s father did. Edward Ferrars’s living in Sense and Sensibility is also “capable of improvement” (ch. 39). Cooper added to his income later by becoming rector of nearby Yoxall (much like George Austen, who served two adjacent parishes).

In 1801 Austen said Edward wrote to her after his wife Caroline had a baby.

I have heard twice from Edward on the occasion, & his letters have each been exactly what they ought to be–chearful & amusing.–He dares not write otherwise to me, but perhaps he might be obliged to purge himself from the guilt of writing Nonsense by filling his shoes with whole pease for a week afterwards.–Mrs. G. [Mrs. Girle, Caroline Cooper’s grandmother] has left him £100–his Wife and son £500 each. (Jan. 21, 1801)

It appears that while Jane thought of Edward as too serious, he was willing to write “Nonsense” to her.

Later that month, Edward invited the Austens to come visit his family at the parsonage in Hamstall Ridware. However, Jane says, “at present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations” (Jan. 25, 1801). Her family had already visited Edward in 1799, when he was a curate at Harpsden. The Austens did visit the Coopers at Hamstall Ridware for five weeks in the summer of 1806, after going to Stoneleigh Abbey. 

Interior of Edward Cooper’s Hamstall Ridware church;
John Salmon via Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane seemed to have trouble keeping track of Edward’s children. Some of them died quite young. In 1811 she wrote, “It was a mistake of mine, my dear Cassandra, to talk of a tenth child at Hamstall. I had forgot there were but eight already” (May 29).

In 1808, when Jane’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Knight, died, Jane wrote, “I have written to Edward Cooper, & hope he will not send one of his Letters of cruel comfort to my poor Brother” (Oct. 15). We don’t know what sort of “cruel comfort” Edward had written in the past. The one still-existing letter from Edward to Jane was written in 1817 and sounds heartfelt and kind. His friend and neighbor John Gisborne wrote that Edward was a great comfort to him in his son’s final illness. But perhaps Edward had taken the opportunity to preach some of his Evangelical ideas in a letter, and Jane and her family did not agree.

Edward Cooper believed and preached an Evangelical interpretation of the Bible. Many of his sermons were published in books, which were reprinted and read for many years, in a long series of editions. So even if Jane didn’t care much for them, others did!

Next month in Part 2, we’ll look at what Edward’s Evangelical ideas were, what Jane Austen thought of his sermons, and why.

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written a book called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England, which she hopes will be available by the end of this year.

 

For Further Reading

Edward Cooper: Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 2

Visiting Edward Cooper,” Gaye King, Persuasions 1987

Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” Donald Greene, Persuasions 1985 (Includes a photo of the rectory where Jane and her family visited Edward and his family)

Come and Visit Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin,” Jane Austen House Museum blog, Sept. 17, 2012 (includes Edward Cooper’s portrait)

Edward Cooper’s letter to Jane April 6, 1817 (article also includes commentary on the letter) 

Jane Austen in the Midlands,” scroll down for a section on Cooper.

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed.

Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed.

Laura Dabundo, Jane Austen: A Companion

Irene Collins, “Displeasing Pictures of Clergymen,” Persuasions 18 (1996): 110. Collins says Austen’s correspondence refers to at least 90 clergymen, and her biographers could add many more. 

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

John Gisborne and his daughter E. N. A., Brief Memoir of the Life of John Gisborne, Esq., to which are added, Extracts from his Diary (London: Whittaker, 1852), 114-115, 128, 227. 

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