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The Matthews Project

Introduction:

Inquiring readers,

The teacher who supervised the creation of this project, Ben John Wiebracht, contacted Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World in the summer of 2020 to propose a research project his students would work on in the fall. After hearing the details, she instantly agreed to publish the finished result in a post, and to create a page for this blog to share with other teachers and students. (My apologies to Dr. Wiebracht for editing this document. I’ve placed quotations around his writing whenever I’ve made no changes.)

The project, entitled “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath,” was published on January 4, 2021. It is still attracting readers and is approaching 1,300 readers!

The Basics:

The teacher: 

Dr. Ben John Wiebracht, English teacher at Stanford Online High School, a private high school under the umbrella of Stanford University.

The class:

The class chose a senior-level elective called “Love Stories” which tracked the evolution of love stories from the classical era to the early nineteenth century. The final unit was on Northanger Abbey. (Virtual book, Little, Brown, and Company, 1903, Internet Archive). 

The students:

The article was researched, written, and designed by LiYuan Byrne, Josephine Chan, Ariana Desai, Carolyn Engargiola, Ava Giles, Macy Levin, Gage Miles, Sophia Romagnoli, Kate Snyder, Oscar Steinhardt, Lauren Stoneman, Alexandria Thomas, and Varsha Venkatram.

Image of the Adumbration class of 13 students and teacher Ben John Wiebracht.

The class and teacher.

The Article and its Inspiration (The What):

  1.  “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath.” (Posted January 4, 2021 in Jane Austen’s World.) As the title suggests, the goal of the article is to give the reader a sense of how Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey, and tourists like her would have spent their time when they visited the city.
  2. The article was based on a long-forgotten Georgian poem that Dr. Wiebracht dug out of the archives over the summer: “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” (1795), by the physician and poet John Matthews. 
    1. “The poem has a wealth of information on the amusements and absurdities of Bath, but it’s tough sledding for a modern reader, chock-full as it is of now-obscure allusions to Bath customs and institutions. Our job was to track them down.”
    2. “A fun example: Matthews mentions at one point a “priest” by the name of “King.” Eh? It turns out he’s referring to a fellow named James King, who wasn’t a priest at all but one of the city’s two “Masters of Ceremonies” – responsible for “presiding over social functions, welcoming newcomers, and enforcing an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction” (Gores, Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, p. 71). Matthews calls him a priest to poke fun at the city’s almost religious devotion to entertainment. And this same King plays a brief but important role in Northanger Abbey: he introduces Catherine and Henry. All of which is to say, paying close attention to Matthews can often lead to a fuller appreciation of Austen.”

Note from the Teacher: Searching for a Unique Contribution (The Why):

“The previous sentence begins to answer this question: we wanted to make a serious contribution to the study of Northanger Abbey

But let me speak as a teacher now, and not just a scholar. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the standard way of teaching writing and research at the high-school level: the five-page essay. A thesis statement establishing the argument, some body paragraphs elaborating or demonstrating the argument, plenty of quotations and analysis – chances are you’ve written a couple in your day! In defense of the form, it does offer a space in which students can practice rhetorical and argumentative skills. My problem with the form is that it has no authentic audience, and the kids know it. Now I might pretend it has an audience by telling them, “imagine you’re writing for someone who is familiar with the text, but hasn’t studied it in depth.” Yeah right! In the history of the world, no one has ever thought: “I’m mildly interested in Northanger Abbey; now let me go find some five-page close-readings of it, but only ones with clear thesis statements and at least two quotes per paragraph.” Nope, the only audience for these essays is the teacher, and the teacher is bringing a very different attitude to the piece and making a very different set of judgments about it than the hypothetical “curious reader.” So the poor students have to pretend to be addressing one audience that for them does not exist, in order to please a very different audience. A recipe for stress – not to mention strained and awkward writing.

What if we changed the equation? What if there were ways to really give students an audience for their academic writing? If we could pull it off, I think it would send the message that the work we ask of students is meaningful and important – that the study of literature itself is important. That’s what the football coaches do, after all (the arch-rivals of us English teachers). How do they convince the kids that running into each other at high speeds is a meaningful, important endeavor? They stick them in a stadium where a bunch of people watch them do it, and it becomes immediately, empirically obvious to the students that football matters. In short, they give the kids an audience.

These were the considerations that prompted me to devise the Matthews project and to reach out to Vic about potentially publishing it on JAW – a forum with a thriving conversation about Austen. And this leads to the practical section of this page.”

Working with Your Students (The How):

If you’re interested in running a project like this with your kids, here are some tips to make it work.

  1. Canon-adjacent may be better than canon. What does that mean? It means that if you’re teaching Pride and Prejudice, it’s going to be tough for your students to break new ground simply by scrutinizing that text. But, if you can find some neglected texts whose study might shed light on Pride and Prejudice, then the picture changes. What about some of her juvenilia? What about Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, which found an appreciative reader in Mr. Collins? What about some Georgian satire making fun of pompous clergymen? This is something to do over the summer, when you’re planning the class, and it might take some digging: the text has to be obscure enough that it isn’t already saturated with criticism, but relevant enough to your main text that there are readers out there who might care about it. “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” fit the bill: almost untouched by scholarship, but with clear connections to Northanger Abbey.
  2. Line up your venue in advance. This is key: you want the kids to know who their audience is from the beginning. Are you going to create an exhibit for a local public library? Will you try to get something published on a blog? Will you self-publish the students’ work on Amazon or some such service? Whatever the case, the students, like all writers, will do better work if they have a clear idea of whom they are addressing, and in what form. 
  3. Make sure students’ research tasks are well-defined. In our case, that meant combing through the poem, asking questions about various lines. Who are Tyson and King? What is a “macaroni”? Then students volunteered to tackle a certain number of research questions in groups. As a teacher, one of your roles is to be the executive planner, making sure there is the right number of students working on the right things.
  4. Offer continuous feedback. My students turned up all kinds of fascinating stuff in the course of their research, but of course they embarked on some rabbit trails as well. In order to help them make the most of their efforts, it’s a good idea to keep track of what students are doing while they’re doing it, rather than waiting to assess their work at the end. How can you do this? By creating a single google doc to which everybody contributes. Ours had a list of research questions, and I would simply check in every few days to see what students had added. Then I would leave comments offering encouragement, advice, and, if necessary, redirection. 
  5. Dive in yourself. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of writing and research of your own. Remember that your students are still learning the ropes of our discipline. If you want to produce a publishable class project, you’ll probably have to do more than simply split up duties and set deadlines. You’ll have to integrate and harmonize the students’ efforts, and fill in some of the gaps yourself. It can change the classroom dynamic in a refreshing way, too, to join in the action. It’s a bit like the old master-apprentice relationship, according to which teaching is a matter of showing, doing, and collaborating, not just telling or advising.
  6. Don’t grade. Or, if you must, do it on completion alone. A grade is what you give to practice scholarship, to performative scholarship – the five-page essay and other such readerless forms. The point of the project I’m describing is to allow students to do some real work. And a particularly good way to make it real is to remove yourself, the teacher, as the audience. For the purpose of this project, you’re the opposite of an audience, you’re a co-author, and the real audience is what all good writing deserves: an interested public.

Sub pages:

Link to “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, 1795,” John Matthews

Plans for Going Forward: 

Our class ended last December, but currently about half the students and I are working on a new project: a scholarly edition of “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme,” complete with an introduction and notes. We’ll be publishing it with Kindle Direct, an Amazon service. Digital copies of the edition will be available to the public at no cost, and hardcopies for under ten dollars.

In the long term, I hope to start a book series to which successive classes can contribute. It might be called something like “Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen.” The goal of the series would be to recover Georgian and Regency writers whose work has fallen out of print, but whose study can shed fresh light on Austen’s life and work. As with the Matthews project, the students and I would work together to introduce and annotate these texts. We would also share the nitty-gritty tasks of publication — obtaining an ISBN, formatting, that sort of thing.

Jane Austen’s World’s Participation in the Project and Two Powerpoint Presentations: Tony Grant and Victoire Sanborn

About the PowerPoints:  

For a visit to Bath and a visual background, Dr. Wiebracht scheduled two workshops, one for Tony Grant, who lives in England and has served as a tour guide to visitors interested in learning more about the places where Jane Austen lived or visited. His PowerPoint and talk were given first, and should be viewed first for those who are interested.

Vic Sanborn’s presentation came the following month. She, too, had visited Bath and used a few of her own photographs, but mostly she concentrated on discussing the years of 1795-98, when Matthews wrote the Adumbration and when Thomas Rowlandson created his illustrations for “The Comforts of Bath.” Tony’s PowerPoint sets up Vic’s perfectly, for her notes are not in the PPT slides. Enjoy!

  • Link to Tony Grant’s PowerPoint Presentation on a Virtual Tour of Bath, given October 2020. This PPT, consisting of Tony’s photographs of his trips to Bath as both a visitor and a guide, comes with descriptions and annotations. If you use his photographs, please give him attribution.
  • Link to Vic Sanborn’s PowerPoint Presentation of Bath 1795, the year the Adumbration was written. The PPT is without explanatory text or the presenter’s voice. A majority of the images are from Thomas Rowlandson’s Prints of “The Comforts of Bath” from 1798. The images, on Wikipedia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are in the public domain. If Vic Sanborn’s photos are used, please give her attribution. 

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In light of Women’s History Month, I’m pleased to share my review of a beautiful new book by Jasmine A. Stirling that is sure to delight the hearts of Jane Austen fans of all ages entitled A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Found Her Voice.

This exquisitely illustrated, full-color book traces Austen’s writing journey from her younger years at Steventon, to her “quiet” years in Bath after her father died, and finally to her years of astonishing creativity at Chawton. This is a book you’ll want to read for yourself, give as a gift, and display on your coffee table.

The writing by Jasmine A. Stirling and the illustrations by Vesper Stamper truly make this book a feast for the eyes and the heart. As a lifelong Austen fan, I found myself swept up in Stirling’s writing style. Her exploration of Austen’s talent, her heart, and her genius brought me new-found joy. This book vividly captures Austen’s experiences as a writer and shows us why her writing still endures today.

Jasmine and I connected on social media several months ago, and I was intrigued by her book because it is a fictional telling of what I and many others have noticed about Austen’s writing career: that she found her perfect time and place to write when she came to Chawton. (You can read my article on this topic here: New Beginnings at Chawton Cottage.)

Jasmine’s book explores the early foundations of Austen’s literary upbringing, the depth of character that Austen’s life experiences produced, and the intriguing set of circumstances that allowed Austen to discover her unique writer’s voice at Chawton.

I highly recommend A Most Clever Girl to any Austen fan of any age. I especially like the idea that I can give this book as a gift to my friends and family members who have younger children so that their children can be exposed to Jane Austen at an early age and be inspired to follow her example as a person and as a creative.

Please continue reading below for the book details, purchase links, and details for a lovely giveaway contest which includes a Jane Austen-themed picnic basket and a hardcover copy of A Most Clever Girl autographed by Jasmine A. Stirling!

ABOUT THE BOOK

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Found Her Voice
Written by Jasmine A. Stirling
Illustrated by Vesper Stamper
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release date: March 30, 2021

Publisher’s Synopsis: Witty and mischievous Jane Austen grew up in a house overflowing with words. As a young girl, she delighted in making her family laugh with tales that poked fun at the popular novels of her time, stories that featured fragile ladies and ridiculous plots. Before long, Jane was writing her own stories-uproariously funny ones, using all the details of her life in a country village as inspiration.

In times of joy, Jane’s words burst from her pen. But after facing sorrow and loss, she wondered if she’d ever write again. Jane realized her writing would not be truly her own until she found her unique voice. She didn’t know it then, but that voice would go on to capture readers’ hearts and minds for generations to come.

PURCHASE LINKS:
Amazon
Bookshop.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jasmine A. Stirling is the debut author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, a picture book biography of Jane Austen about persistence and creative mastery. Jasmine lives on a cheerful street in San Francisco with her husband, two daughters, and their dog. From a young age, she loved to write poems and stories and worked her way through nearly every children’s book (and quite a few for grownups, too) in her local library. When she’s not writing, Jasmine can be found hiking in the fog, singing songs from old musicals, and fiddling with her camera.

Jasmine first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where she read her favorite of Jane’s six masterful novels, Persuasion. A Most Clever Girl is her dream project, done with her dream team—award-winning illustrator Vesper Stamper and Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Jasmine also has a YA/New Adult history of the women’s suffrage movement out soon, titled We Demand An Equal Voice.

Visit www.jasmineastirling.com to get a free Jane Austen paper doll kit with the purchase of A Most Clever Girl. While you’re there, enter to win a Regency tea party gift basket!

Follow Jasmine on Instagram and Facebook @jasmine.a.stirling.author where she posts about kidlit and life with two young girls.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

Enter for a chance to win a glorious Jane Austen-themed picnic basket, including a hardcover copy of A Most Clever Girl autographed by Jasmine A. Stirling!

ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE

One (1) grand prize winner receives:

  • A picnic basket filled with:
    • A copy of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, signed by author Jasmine A. Stirling
    • A vintage teacup
    • 1 oz of tea From Adagio Teas
    • Truffles from Moonstruck Chocolates
    • Gardenia hand cream
    • A set of Jane Austen playing cards

Two (2) winners receive:

  • A copy of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, signed by author Jasmine A. Stirling

The giveaway begins March 16, 2021, at 12:01 A.M. MT, and ends April 16, 2021, at 11:59 P.M. MT.

BOOK TOUR SCHEDULE FOR A MOST CLEVER GIRL

March 16The Children’s Book Reviewhttps://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/Book Review
March 17Life is What It’s Calledwww.lifeiswhatitscalled.blogspot.comInterview
March 18Library Lady’s Kid Lithttps://janemouttet.wordpress.com/Book Review & Guest Post
March 19Austen Prosehttps://austenprose.com/Book Preview & Guest Post
March 20A Dream Within A Dreamhttp://adreamwithindream.blogspot.comBook Review
March 21Barbara Ann Mojica’s Bloghttps://bamauthor.meBook Review
March 22Jane Austen’s Worldhttps://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/Interview
March 23Satisfaction for Insatiable Readershttps://insatiablereaders.blogspot.comBook Review & Guest Post
March 24icefairy’s Treasure Chesthttp://icefairystreasurechest.blogspot.com/Book Review
March 25Heart to Hearttynea-lewis.comBook Review
March 26Confessions of a Book Addicthttp://www.confessionsofabookaddict.comGuest Post
March 27Eccentric Eclectic Womanhttp://finamoon.blogspot.comBook Review
March 28J.R.s Book Reviewshttps://jrsbookreviews.wordpress.com/Book Review
March 29My Jane Austen Book Clubhttp://thesecretunderstandingofthehearts.blogspot.com/Interview
March 30Jane Austen in Vermonthttps://janeausteninvermont.blog/Book Review & Guest Post
March 31Some the Wiserhttps://somethewiser.comBook Review
April 1Austenesque Reviewswww.AustenesqueReviews.comBook Review
April 2Absolutely Austenhttps://absolutelyausten.com/Book Review
April 3Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austenbrendascox.wordpress.comBook Review
April 4Fairview Elementary School (Library)https://fveslibrary.blogspot.com/Book Review
April 5Comfy Chair Bookshttps://comfychairbooks.com/Book Review
April 6Reading Is My SuperPowerhttps://readingismysuperpower.orgBook Review
April 7ShootingStarsMagwww.shootingstarsmag.netA Beyond the Book Activity
April 8Glass of Wine, Glass of Milkglassofwineglassofmilk.blogspot.comBook Review
April 9Book Q&As with Deborah Kalbhttp://deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com/Interview
April 10The Fictional Cafehttps://www.fictionalcafe.com/Review + Interview
April 11Ingenious Babyhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkNfesiHAPnqc4STgBn-LjwInterview
April 12The Children’s Book Reviewhttps://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/Guest Post
April 13Tucked In Tuesdayhttps://www.instagram.com/tutoringyoutoexcellence/Instagram Live: Tucked in Tuesday

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

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When I visited Bath in the U.K., I made a point of seeing No. 1 Royal Crescent, a fascinating museum whose interior was decorated in the Georgian style of the late 18th century/early 19th century. One had the feeling when entering the house that it may have been inhabited by people Jane Austen might have met in the Pump Room or the Upper Assembly Rooms. 

Completion of the Royal Crescent, Thomas Malton, 1769. No. 1 Royal Crescent sits towards the front.

Completion of the Royal Crescent, Thomas Malton, 1769. No. 1 Royal Crescent sits towards the front. Image in the public domain. Wikimedia.

My one lasting memory is of the kitchen and a contraption near the ceiling. It hung in the far corner near a fire place and looked like a torture instrument. Inside the wooden wheel was a stuffed dog, popularly known in its time as a turnspit dog, which represented a breed that no longer exists. They were small, long-bodied, and sturdy; had short crooked legs; and were trained to run inside a wheel that turned a roasting spit. These long-suffering, hard-working canines, resembled curs not purebreds, and saved cooks (or menial boys of the lowest servant order) the task of turning roasting spits by hand for hours. 

Turnspitdog-1862

Turnspit dog, 1862. H Weir – Illustrated Natural History, Rev JG Wood.  Image in the public domain. Wikipedia 

The dogs were first mentioned in 1576 under the name “Turnespete”(Wikipedia). Their lives were hot, tedious, strenuous, and short. They were considered more kitchen utensils than pets, this during the centuries when animal cruelty was casual and baiting animals was a sport. 

1024px-Turnspit_Dog_Working

A dog at work inside a wheel near the ceiling; from Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales (1800). Wikipedia, public domain image

“To train the dog to run faster, a glowing coal was thrown into the wheel”- Turnspit Dogs: The Rise and Fall of the Vernepator Cur, NPR

Their breed was considered so common that its origins are unknown, although some experts think the turnspit dog was related to a terrier or perhaps the Welsh Corgi. Imagine the life of this dog–confined to a wheel for hours, forced to run near a fireplace while smelling the roasting meat of an animal that was out of their reach, tired, aching, and thirsting for water. 

“The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint.”- NPR

As we all know, heat rises, so one wonders how well that placement worked! Turnspit dogs worked in alternating teams of two and were regularly relieved by an equally hardworking companion dog. They often were given Sundays off, not because their owners cared about their well being, but because they acted as foot warmers in cold church pews (Kitchensisters). One must imagine their relief for these few hours of rest.

turnspit-2-e1453334578380-Whiskey-Barkpost

Whiskey, the last known turnspit dog, now on view in the Abergavenny Museum in Wales.

These tiny unloved dogs were prevalent in the mid 18th century, but by 1900 mechanical spit turning machines replaced them. Since they were considered ugly and lowly, their breed became extinct. Whiskey, the last known surviving turnspit dog, lives on as a taxidermied specimen in the Abergavenny Museum in Wales. 

As an interesting footnote, in the United States the plight of the turnspit dog inspired the founding of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

“In 1850, founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh, was so moved by the appalling conditions in which the Turnspits were found in Manhattan hotels, that its horrific living conditions contributed to the birth of the organization in 1866. Coincidentally, this was around the time the dogs had become scarce, and 50 years later, they completely disappeared.”- Barkpost

Note: Before COVID-19, Vic volunteered with the local SPCA, which is a no-kill shelter. She’s also been privileged to live with two rescue dogs, both of whom were (aside from friends and family) the loves of her life. Neither dog revealed their living conditions before she adopted them.

More References:

Spit Roast Doggie, Richard Wyatt, September 21, 2014, Day by Day. Bath News Museum

A Breed You’ve Never Heard Of Is The Reason We Fight Animal Cruelty Today, Bark Post

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“‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood . . .'” —Northanger Abbey

The only riot in Jane Austen’s novels takes place in Eleanor Tilney’s mind, her brother says. But is it only in her mind?

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is walking with Henry and Eleanor Tilney  on Beechen Cliff, which overlooks Bath. They admire the scenery, then the conversation moves to government and politics;

“from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded [Henry’s] short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Not surprisingly, since they had just been talking about government and politics, Eleanor thinks that Catherine has heard rumors of something terrible about to happen in London.

“Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, ‘Indeed! And of what nature?’”

[Catherine responds,] “’That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.’”

“’Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?’”

“’A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.’”

“’You speak with astonishing composure! But I hope your friend’s accounts have been exaggerated; and if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.’”

“’Government,’ said Henry, endeavouring not to smile, ‘neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much.’”

[Eleanor responds,] “’Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.’”

“”Riot! What riot?’”

[Henry explains,] “’My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out . . .’”.

Catherine is talking about a new Gothic novel!

Henry explains that Eleanor, though,

“’immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.’”

Henry think Eleanor is foolish to imagine such a thing, but was she? Was Jane Austen perhaps describing a real riot?

800px-The_Gordon_Riots_by_John_Seymour_Lucas

Captain Frederick Tilney, knocked off his horse? “Gordon Riots,” Project Gutenberg eText 19609, by John Seymour Lucas, 1879. Public domain.

The Gordon Riots

Such riots had happened before. Henry might have been talking about the Gordon Riots of 1780.* These are considered the most destructive and violent riots in English history. Lord George Gordon initiated these anti-Catholic riots, though he intended only a peaceful demonstration. At that time, Catholics in England had very limited rights. An Act of Parliament, passed in 1778, gave Catholics a few rights, including the rights to buy and inherit property, and to join the military, if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

On June 2, 1780, Gordon gathered a crowd of around sixty thousand people at St. George’s Fields, London. They marched to Parliament to present a petition. Parliament did not choose to overturn the law.

256px-Charles_Green13

Thousands gathered in St. George’s Fields. “The Gordon Riots,” Charles Green (1840-1898) / Public domain

Riots ensued, with people shouting “No popery!” and burning down Catholic chapels, priests’ houses, Catholic homes, shops, and schools, and a distillery owned by a Catholic. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had supported the Catholic Relief Act (he later supported rights for black people in England as well); his house was looted. (Yes, Mansfield Park may have been named after this Lord Mansfield.) The homes of other politicians who supported the Act were also attacked. Lord Gordon tried to calm the situation; he took no responsibility for the riots.

Mobs, already angry about poverty and injustice, attacked the Bank of England on June 7. They burned prisons and prisoners went free. The rioting lasted for about a week. Over ten thousand soldiers were brought in to quell the riots. More than three hundred rioters were killed during the riots or executed afterwards. (By the way, at least two black men, included in the picture below, were involved in the rioting, and black writer Ignatius Sancho witnessed it and wrote about it. The story is told at Black Presence.) George Gordon was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was eventually acquitted of treason.

800px-An_exact_representation_of_the_Burning,_Plundering_and_Destruction_of_Newgate_by_the_rioters,_on_the_memorable_7th_of_June_1780_(BM_Z,1.4)

Newgate Prison was burned during the Gordon Riots. “An exact representation of the Burning, Plundering and Destruction of Newgate by the rioters, on the memorable 7th of June 1780,” by Henry Roberts, 1781. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Gordon Riots seem an appropriate possibility for Henry’s description: thousands gathering in St. George’s Fields (though many more than what he described), the bank attacked, the army called in, many people killed. I haven’t found references to the Tower of London being threatened, however.

These riots also relate to Bath, where Henry and the ladies were having their conversation. During the Gordon riots, anti-Catholic rioting also broke out in Bath. Rioters burned down the Catholic chapel, the bishop’s house and the priest’s house. The city of Bath responded strongly, hanging the ringleader and taxing the whole city to pay for the building of a new Catholic chapel.

Other Riots

However, the Gordon Riots took place when Jane Austen was only four years old; long before she wrote Northanger Abbey. Could she have been referring to more recent riots? Collins Hemingway, in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World (July/Aug 2018), suggests that it is more likely that Austen was describing one of the many riots going on in England closer to the time when Northanger Abbey was written or revised. (The novel was apparently written between 1797 and 1803, and revised somewhat in 1816-17.)

Some examples of riots closer to the writing of Northanger Abbey:

  • The Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791: Rioters attacked Dissenters (non-Anglicans) who were supporting the French Revolution, including Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a Unitarian minister as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen. Houses, chapels, and businesses were burned.
  • The Bristol Bridge Riot in 1793 in Bristol was a protest against taxes and tolls. Soldiers were called in and 11 people were killed and 45 injured. This was the second most violent riot in England in the eighteenth century.
  • A series of riots in 1795, in various towns in England, has been called “the Revolt of the Housewives.” Led mostly by women, these were protests against high food prices. Women would seize the goods of a merchant who they thought was overcharging customers. The women sold the goods at what they considered a fair price, and gave the money to the merchant.
  • A London riot in 1809, the Old Price Riot, protested price increases at the newly-rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. The management eventually gave in. They restored earlier prices so the theatre would be accessible to everyone, rich and poor.
  • In late 1816, as Austen may have been revising Northanger Abbey, a mob of about 10,000 people in Spa Fields, London demanded election reforms and relief for the poor. The first meeting was peaceful, but the second meeting, of about 20,000 people, turned violent. They attempted to attack the Tower of London. However, troops quickly put down the riots. Perhaps this riot inspired Austen to mention “the tower threatened.”

Hemingway suggests that the most likely riot to have inspired Austen was a riot in Manchester in 1808. Six thousand weavers gathered in St. George’s Field, Manchester (rather than St. George’s Field, London) to demand a minimum wage. Dragoons were sent to restore order. According to Hemingway, when Henry Tilney says the dragoons were called “up from Northampton,” it may mean they were called up to the north, to Manchester. One man was killed, and others were injured. The rioting spread to neighboring towns. Weavers did receive a small pay increase in the end. Surprisingly, the dragoons later apologized to the weavers for their actions, and took up a collection for the family of the man who was killed.

760px-Barnaby_Rudge_-_P207c

Illustration from Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge, “Barnaby at the Gordon Riots,” 1871, public domain.

However, London is mentioned several times in the Northanger Abbey passage. It’s possible that Austen was taking details of other recent riots and transplanting them to London, for the story. To me, however, the Gordon Riots seem to most closely fit the details given. While there was not a time when the streets of London were literally “flowing with blood,” those were the riots in which the most people were killed.

Although Henry says Catherine’s “words could relate only to a circulating library,” riots similar to what he described had happened in recent history. Of course he also criticizes her vivid imagination when she thinks his father has committed a terrible crime. It turns out that his father is not a murderer, but does treat Catherine cruelly. Henry’s words are often ironic.

What do you think? Was Austen referring to a real riot (or several riots) here, or was the riot only in Eleanor’s mind?

 

*R. W. Chapman (1923 edition of Northanger Abbey), Roger E. Moore (Jane Austen and the Reformation, 105), and others consider this riot to refer to the Gordon Riots.

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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Inquiring readers,

Many of you have noticed my absence for a long time. If it weren’t for the efforts of Rachel Dodge and Tony Grant, this blog would have remained silent for most of the previous twelve months. Thank you, both, dear friends, for your contributions.

Two years ago I realized my heart and soul were no longer in my work and that it was time to retire.  Since then, I have been in the process of getting my house ready for sale, selling it, and packing my belongings to move to north Baltimore to be near family. Luckily or unluckily, I sold my house the moment my realtor planted the “coming soon” sign on my lawn. This meant that I had to move two months earlier than anticipated, since the new owners were anxious to move into my beloved abode.

My new place, however, was not ready. Currently, all my possessions, save for summer clothes and necessities, are in storage, and so I am living in limbo as a guest with friends until the end of August.

Starting September 1, I will be traveling between Richmond and Baltimore for four months, waiting for my new place to be approved by a house inspector and working remotely at a distance (with frequent travels via I-95 to attend bi-monthly meetings down south). January 1st is the date of my retirement. Ah, the modern life!

As I anticipate my schedule this fall and early winter, my thoughts often turn to Jane Austen. She had immense pleasure of living the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire.

Outside there were fields where Mr Austen farmed and his wife grew potatoes (at that time quite an innovation), formal gardens with a turf walk, sundial, strawberry beds, and a grassy bank down which the young Jane, possibly enjoyed rolling as a child, like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. – http://www3.hants.gov.uk/austen/deane-parsonage/steventon-village.htm, Hantsweb, Hampshire County Council

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

The Austens also ran a boarding school for young men out of the parsonage house to augment the reverend’s yearly income of £230. His extensive library of 300 – 500 volumes was amazingly large for that era, since books were frightfully expensive. Rev. Austen encouraged Jane and her sister, Cassandra, to read from his library, an unusual encouragement for females in that time.

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, the British Library

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, The British Library

Jane enjoyed an extremely close relationship with her older sister, Cassandra, and they supported each other in their respective strengths and talents. Jane’s talent, as well as Cassandra’s, were nurtured by their doting family, as evidenced by the History of England, written by Jane and illustrated by Cassandra, and the plays and stories of juvenilia a young and playful Jane wrote for family gatherings.

At the age of 25, after enjoying a bucolic childhood that any woman of her era would have envied, Jane’s parents announced the Reverend’s decision to retire and leave Steventon. It was said that, upon hearing the news, Jane fainted. I can only imagine what went through her mind as she imagined the life she adored evaporating as she saw her family’s possessions reduced to the amount that one or several moving carts could hold.

(See slideshow of 18thcentury carts and wagons in Williamsburg of sample carts. I tend to think the blue covered wagon would be similar to one or two vehicles the Austen family would have contracted to move their belongings: http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring09/carts_slideshow/)

These days I empathize with the painful decisions the Austen family must have made regarding their possessions. After paring my own book collection down from around 4,000 volumes to 600 and getting rid of or giving away 90% of my furniture, and after living almost 30 years near a beautiful river and leaving my favorite house, ever, I can imagine Jane’s despair as beloved friends and family and favorite walking paths and shops were left behind for a city she didn’t particularly love (or so Claire Tomalin surmised). As the moving wagon and carriage that carried the Austen family and their possessions turned the corner away from the parsonage, Jane must have been overcome with nostalgia, sadness, and a bit of fear all at once.

And so for the next five years Jane began a restless, peripatetic lifestyle, one that influenced her inability to write any meaningful work for a long time. (Houses in Bath Where Jane Austen Lived, KleurijkJaneAusten, May 28, 2011)

The Austen family’s first house in Bath was located at number 4 Sydney Place.

“No. 4 Sydney Place was a good, well-proportioned, newly build terraced house. It was well placed outside the crowded centre of Bath, but within easy walking distance over Pulteney Bridge.” – Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life

Canal and walks, Sydney Gardens 19th C.This address, opposite Sydney Gardens, allowed Jane easy access to the walking paths along its beautiful grounds, a sop to her country heart. (See image on the right.)

Map of Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place, Bath

Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place

Map of Bath

Main city of Bath, across the Pulteney Bridge from Sydney Place

“Whether you go to see, or to be seen, At Sydney Gardens you’ll be pleased, I ween, Whatever your taste, for prospects or good cheer, Cascades or rural walks, you’ll find them here…”
– Anon, 27 August 1795, poem in local newspaper
–“The History of Sydney Gardens” by Catherine Pitt, The Bath Magazine

Life in the city of Bath was vastly different from life in the country. In Steventon, Mrs Austen oversaw an extensive garden, and used fresh milk from a milk cow and fresh eggs from her chickens to create simple but good food from scratch. She worked alongside her servants in the kitchen and kitchen garden to provide wholesome meals for her family and young boarders, as well as clean clothes and a tidy house. She was a creative poet and a few of her recipes in verse still survive.

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses…

(Find the rest of this delightful recipe on this blog at https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/a-receipt-for-a-pudding-by-mrs-austen/)

Imagine the shock this country family felt at having to walk to the green grocer daily, acquire milk from cows kept in city stalls and that was often cut with water, all in an age before refrigeration.

 

“When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Has put a spirit of youth in everything.”

yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before “the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd” are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale vendors of the commodity, who have it consigned to them daily from more distant parts to the various railway stations in the metropolis, bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute it to the hundreds of shopkeepers and itinerants, who are anxiously waiting to receive it for re-distribution amongst their own customers. It is evident that a perishable commodity which everyone requires at a given hour, must be so distributed.

” –  — from A History of the Cries of London, Ancient and Modern, by Charles Hindley, Project Gutenberg, p 141

This situation for “not so” fresh milk, meat, and vegetables was as similar for the citizens of London as for a small city, like Bath. The Austen’s maid of all work and Austen women purchased “fresh” food on a daily basis, food that was both expensive and often past its “due date.” (Drinking Milk in Regency London, Jane Austen’s World, 2008)

Obtaining decent food supplies in Bath must have been costly for a family living on a parson’s pension. The incessant street cries of the baker, the milkmaid, and other food sellers, even across the Pulteney Bridge in a quieter section of town, must have cut into Jane’s peaceful hours. No wonder her creative juices stalled after her father’s death, as the family moved from place to place (after his pension to his family had been cut off), and before she and her mother and sister found refuge in Chawton Cottage. (Where Jane Lived, Gotta Keep Movin’ blog.)

I confess I possess not a smidgeon of Jane Austen’s writing genius, but the disruption in my life, starting with the years of my father’s slow dying and his death in 2014, and my sweet dog’s sudden fatal illness in 2016, blocked my creative input, both at work and at home.

To be near family, I am moving from a small city with many friends to the suburb of a much larger city., where I know few people. In the process, I am leaving my favorite, unique foodie haunts, small local theater productions, historic city neighborhoods, a short and easy ride to work, and white water rafting downtown on the James River to live in a land of manicured lawns, malls, congested traffic, and national restaurant chains.

Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA

My river walk along the James

Until I regain my footing in early 2019, I don’t anticipate devoting myself to this blog full-time just yet. Thank you, readers, for your understanding. Thank you, Rachel and Tony, for your support.

Vic

Sources:

 

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