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Archive for the ‘19th Century England’ Category

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.

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By Brenda S. Cox

Church livings play an important part in most of Jane Austen’s novels.

For example:

A fortunate chance had recommended him [Mr. Collins] to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.—Pride and Prejudice chapter 15

Mr. Collins “venerates” his patron Lady Catherine, who gave him a living as a rector. (C.E. Brock)

A church living was a permanent job as rector or vicar of a parish, and the income, house, and farmland that went along with that.

In a country parish, most of the income came from tithes. People in the parish were legally required to pay the clergyman 10% of their income, which was usually from farming. It might be paid in crops, animals, and eggs, or in cash. During Austen’s time the system was changing over to cash, but many still paid in produce.

The clergyman also sometimes got income from glebe, the farmland that was part of the living. (Austen usually calls this land “meadow.”) And he might get a few pounds a year from the fees people paid for weddings, funerals, etc.

Some parishes in England traditionally had (and still have) a rector. Others traditionally had (and still have) a vicar. Mr. Collins was a rector, like most of Austen’s clergymen. Edward Ferrars is also offered a position as a rector:

“It is a rectory, but a small one”—Col. Brandon on the church living he is offering Edward Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility chapter 39

Colonel Brandon with Elinor; he gave a living to Edward Ferrars as a parish rector. (C.E. Brock)

The word rectory could mean either a job as a rector, or the rector’s home (also called a parsonage) that was provided with the living. Here it means his position. The word rector, by the way, is related to the words right and rectify. The rector was supposed to lead his parish in the right direction, and he had certain rights, which Mr. Collins is proud of.

Mr. Elton, though, is not a rector. He’s a vicar.

“He [Mr. Elton] had a comfortable home for her [Harriet], and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property”—Emma chapter 4

Emma does not recognize Mr. Elton’s need for money, thinking he will marry Harriet. (C. E. Brock)

The word vicarage, like the word rectory, could refer to his position or his home; here it means his position. Vicar is related to vicarious, it means standing in the place of someone else.

A rector or a vicar had the same duties. They led church services, preached, officiated at ceremonies like baptisms, met with the vestry to deal with parish issues, helped the poor, and so forth. However, they did not receive the same level of pay.

There were two kinds of tithes. Parishes had their own agreements and definitions about what was included in each. But most commonly:

Greater tithes included everything that came from the ground, like wheat, oats, and barley.

Lesser tithes were usually fruit, eggs, and the young of animals.

If a clergyman was the rector of a parish, he got all the tithes.

If a clergyman was the vicar of a parish, he only got the lesser tithes, usually about a quarter of the total tithes. Someone else, probably the patron, was actually the rector and took the greater tithes.

Farmers brought their tithes of grain and animals to the parish clergyman. From A Clerical Alphabet, Richard Newton, Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

So, I think Austen is very intentional when she makes Mr. Elton a vicar. Emma knows that he doesn’t make a lot of money as vicar (“the vicarage . . . was not large”). Austen also gives us another clue:

“Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady . . . She lived with her single daughter in a very small way . . . her [daughter’s] middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.” —Emma chapter 3

Mrs. and Miss Bates, the widow and daughter of the former vicar of Highbury, live in poverty. (C.E. Brock)

Mrs. Bates’s husband, the former vicar, had not made enough money to leave much for his wife and daughter. So the income of this parish, at least for the vicar, is certainly low.

Emma, as usual, is clueless. She doesn’t realize that Mr. Elton, a vicar, is going to need to marry for money (though her readers would have known). So, the fun begins!

The third major type of clergyman was a curate. You can read more about curates in my post Nothing But a Country Curate

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen at brendascox.wordpress.com . She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

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A Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“Mr. Curtis’s [the apothecary’s] opinions were succinct . . . He looked at me–and into me, by way of a lanthorn beam directed down my throat–and pronounced me in want only of a period of rest and refreshment.”–Jane and the Year Without a Summer

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is the newest “Jane Austen Mystery.”

Jane and the Year Without a Summer is the fourteenth book in a delightful series by Stephanie Barron. The novels show Jane Austen solving mysteries. I’ve enjoyed all of them! In the first of the series, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, she solved the murder of an earl in 1802. In each book, actual events, people, and places in Jane’s life are mixed with fiction, mystery, and a little romance.

In Jane and the Year Without a Summer, we’ve reached May 1816. So we’re nearing the end, sadly. Jane is suffering from the disease that will eventually kill her. But, of course, she doesn’t know that yet. So she goes to Cheltenham Spa with Cassandra to try the waters. She hates them, but, as always, gets involved in, and solves, a mystery. And she meets up with a romantic interest from a previous book.

You can enjoy this story without having read earlier books in the series. It’s been quite some time since I read the previous book, and I still followed this one easily.

Nothing really mysterious happens until over a third of the way through the book. But I enjoyed hanging out with Jane and Cassandra until then, and appreciating the real historical details woven into their story. The family is experiencing hard times, with Henry’s bank failure; Edward fighting a lawsuit; and Charles surviving a shipwreck and facing an inquiry over the loss of his ship. The apothecary tells Jane she needs a rest, so she uses some of her income from Emma to take Cassandra to a popular spa town.

The Year Without a Summer

At their boarding house, they meet a clergyman who calls himself a “man of Science.” (Though “natural philosophy” or “natural history” would have been more common terms used at the time.)  He prophesies apocalyptic desolations on the earth, based on an actual event.

Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted the year before (1815), the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.  It filled the world’s atmosphere with ash for several years. This made 1816 a “year without a summer,” when crops failed and people went hungry around the globe. 

Austen experienced a wet, cool summer. John Constable pictures a storm moving in over Weymouth Bay that year, 1816. Public domain via wikiart.

Medicine

In another area of science, we hear the dubious medical advice of the Alton apothecary and the Cheltenham doctor. A real doctor is mentioned, though, who revolutionized medicine during Austen’s time by inventing vaccines.

Edward Jenner lived in Cheltenham at the time. He discovered that he could give people cowpox in order to prevent smallpox. (“Vaccination” comes from Latin “vacca,” meaning cow.)  Jane thinks that he “is of such dubious brilliance that some regard him as the Devil, and others as a god.” She says she was vaccinated by her friend Madame Lefroy, a clergyman’s wife who did vaccinate many people in her parish, near the Austens’ parish.

James Gillray’s 1802 cartoon, “The Cow-Pock, or the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!” shows cows emerging from the bodies of people being vaccinated, illustrating the public’s fears of vaccination. Public domain via wikipedia.

“Weaknesses” of Women

The Cheltenham doctor Jane consults claims that her health problems are due to “an excess of uterine influence.” He claims that “denying the organ its proper function of childbearing” causes it to release poisons into the body, causing “every kind of affliction” common to women! Jane doesn’t think much of his advice. She comments to Cassandra that childbearing itself is even worse; some of their relatives died in childbirth.

Attitudes toward women are threaded through the novel. Jane’s brother James tells her, “the female mind is too weak to support the rigors of composition, and must necessarily fall into vice.” Jane, of course, ignores this. I’m wondering if James ever said anything like this (readers, do you know?), or if it’s just a reflection of popular attitudes. James wrote a poem, after the publication of Sense and Sensibility, praising her writing and adjuring her to continue writing. So if he said something like this later, it was quite a change.

[Spoiler alert—skip this paragraph if you wish.] The mysteries of the novel center around a frail young invalid, Miss Williams. She is trying to achieve independence. Her wealthy father’s will gave her an inheritance when she married, but she will lose control of it if she gets pregnant (or dies). So she becomes anorexic, refusing to eat. One of Barron’s many helpful notes tells us that anorexia frequently prevented menstruation and conception. So women sometimes used that choice as a way to control their own lives. However, when people close to “Miss Williams” die, questions arise. Is her wastrel husband trying to kill her to get her inheritance? Or is something else going on?

Stephanie Barron not only tells a compelling story, she has obviously done her research on Jane Austen’s life and world. We learn fun details ranging from how transparencies were made and displayed, to how much Princess Charlotte’s wedding gown cost.

I think any Austen fan will enjoy reading about Jane Austen’s fictional adventures during “the year without a summer.”

Jane and the Year Without a Summer comes out on Feb. 8. Enjoy!

Brenda S. Cox also posts on “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen,” and is working on a book entitled “Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England.”

For a scholarly examination, see Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816 

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During Jane Austen’s lifetime, conduct literature that advocated ideal conduct and character for young women was common. In the form of letters, pamphlets, and full-length novels, conduct literature covered an array of topics meant to instruct and inform.

Conduct manuals played a large part in forming Austen’s culture and the world of her novels. To better understand her world and her characters, let’s take a closer look at the world of conduct literature for young ladies.

Conduct Books

Whereas etiquette books of the last century, such as Emily Post’s Etiquette, stressed good manners and how to behave in specific social situations, the conduct manuals and letters written for young ladies in Jane Austen’s time focused mainly on propriety. The central purpose was to mold the character of a young woman and teach her how to think, act, and speak in a way that was both morally and socially proper.

Conduct manuals discussed a wide range of subjects, including household chores, religion, and what to look for in a husband. However, the underlying concern evident in most of the conduct pamphlets being written at this time was the cultivation of “virtue” in the female sex. As Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin states in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787), “the main business of our lives is to learn to be virtuous.” And according to many eighteenth-century conduct books, a woman’s virtue was expressed in her attitudes, her carriage, her accomplishments, and her actions and speech. 

But what did these books, letters, and pamphlets actually say? Let’s take a closer look at three examples from the late 1700s to see what young ladies were taught during Austen’s youth and adolescence:

“A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters”

In John Gregory’s popular conduct book, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (first published in 1774), Gregory told his daughters that they should aspire to the kind of “virtue” their deceased mother possessed and put on “a certain gentleness of spirit and manners extremely engaging in [women].”


Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “A father’s legacy to his daughters.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The topics for this particular conduct book are as follows:

  • Religion
  • Conduct and Behaviour
  • Amusements
  • Friendship, Love, Marriage

On the topic of Amusements, Gregory has this to say:

Some amusements are conducive to health, as various kinds of exercise: some are connected with qualities really useful, as different kinds of women’s work, and all the domestic concerns of a family: some are elegant accomplishments, as dress, dancing, music, and drawing. Such books as improve your understandings, enlarge your knowledge, and cultivate your taste, may be considered in a higher point of view than mere amusements. There are a variety of others, which are neither useful nor ornamental, such as play of different kinds.

John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters

On the topic of Friendship, Gregory makes these comments:

A happy choice of friends will be of the utmost consequence to you, as they may assist you by their advice and good offices. But the immediate gratification which friendship affords to a warm, open, and ingenuous heart, is of itself sufficient motive to court it. In the choice of your friends, have your principal regard to goodness of heart and fidelity. If they also possess taste and genius, that will still make them more agreeable and useful companions.

John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters

“An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters”

In Lady Pennington’s An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters (1761), she covers many topics for young ladies, complete with an index of books her daughters should read as part of her discussion on how her daughters should make “mental improvements” through reading, which gives us insight into other literature of the time period that was considered edifying for young ladies:

Along with Gregory, Pennington suggests that virtue should be a person’s highest goal: “Aim at perfection, or you will never reach to an attainable height of virtue.”

She goes into great detail on an expansive number of subjects, but one interesting highlight that seems to have been common for Jane Austen herself and for her leading ladies is in regard to one’s daily schedule. She explains that mornings should be spent in domestic duties and “improvement.” Afternoons “may then be allowed to diversions” (which includes “company, books of the amusing kind, and entertaining productions of the needle, as well as plays, balls”).

But, she says, the former part of the day should be “devoted to more useful employments”:

One half hour, or more, either before or immediately after breakfast, I would have you constantly give to the attentive perusal of some rationally pious author, or to some part of the New Testament, with which, and indeed with the whole Scripture, you ought to make yourself perfectly acquainted, as the basis on which your religion is founded. From this practice you will reap more real benefit than can be supposed by those who have never made the experiment.”

Lady Pennington, An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters
Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters, in a letter to Miss Pennington,” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Further advice includes studying “your own language thoroughly, that you may speak correctly, and write grammatically.” She suggests being “well acquainted” with French and, if possible, Italian; the history of England other European nations; Geography, as this will “make history more entertaining to you;” Philosophy; and the “first four rules of Arithmetic.” Music and Drawing are humorously described as “accomplishments well worth the trouble of attaining, if your inclination and genius lead to either: if not, do not attempt them; for it will be only much time and labour unprofitably thrown away.”

Finally, a quote I found personally inspiring which I can imagine Austen might have agreed with:

Expect not many friends, but think yourself happy, if, through life, you meet with one or two who deserve that name, and have all the requisites for the valuable relation.

Lady Pennington, An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters

“An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex

Austen herself read a conduct manual titled An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, written by Thomas Gisborne (1797), which followed his popular “Enquiries into the Duties of Men.” It covers topics such as the differences between men and women, female education, introducing young women into society, conversation and letter writing, dress, entertainment, the employment of time, choosing a husband, the duties of parents, and so forth.

I am glad you recommended “Gisborne”, for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it.

Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 30 August 1805

To explain Austen’s possible reason for this common, the British Library has this to say:

“We don’t know why Austen had ‘determined not to read’ An Enquiry. Perhaps she expected it to be similar to the Mr Collins-endorsed Sermons to Young Women, referred to in Pride and Prejudice, which stresses the need for women to be submissive and modest. In fact, Gisborne praises woman’s capacity for ‘sprightliness and vivacity’, ‘quickness of perception’ and ‘fertility of invention’ – as well as the more traditional female virtues of offering comfort and cheer to those around them.

“Though Gisborne’s views seem conservative to modern readers, many of them are similar to those that Austen expresses in her novels. He urges women to spend time each day reading improving books, mentioning as particularly suitable the works of William Cowper, one of Austen’s favourite poets (p. 219). He warns against the ‘absurd and mischievous’ belief that a woman can reform a cruel and immoral man after marrying him (p. 238), and criticises mothers who prioritise wealth over happiness in choosing husbands for their daughters.” (British Library, Conduct Book for Women)

Forms of Conduct Literature

There were countless other conduct books, letters, and pamphlets written during Austen’s lifetime. These, along with sermons and religious writings, were the only kind of reading material that was thought proper for young ladies. Later, didactic novels that taught a moral lesson in story form, became more popular. Still within the genre of conduct literature, didactic novels were written to entertain and instruct. Stay tuned for more on that topic next month.

I encourage you to follow the links above and read some of these books for yourself. It’s quite interesting to find out what exactly young women were taught during Jane Austen’s time. And it’s easy to see where Austen may have found instruction, inspiration, and even, at times, amusement within their pages.


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

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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What led you to write Jane Austen: A Companion?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by Laura Dabundo

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

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

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

Laura Dabundo’s spiritual memoir

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