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A guest post by Katherine Cowley

Katherine-Cowley-225x300

The Author

Readers and scholars have generally seen the reaction to snow in Emma as an overreaction, both ridiculous and absurd. Yet a look at the snowfalls in England in January and February of 1814 puts the snow in Emma—which was published in December of 1815—in context. Readers of the time would have seen the fears of snow as justified, or, at the very least, understandable.

A pivotal scene in Emma occurs at a Christmas Eve dinner at the Westons’ home. The dinner brings together a number of important characters—Emma, her father Mr. Woodhouse, the Westons, Mr. Knightley, Mr. Elton (who Emma believes is in love with her friend Harriet), and Isabella and John Knightley (Emma’s sister and brother-in-law). Yet the perfect holiday meal does not occur—the falling snow causes a panic (especially for Mr. Woodhouse), and everyone leaves early, hurrying home before more snow can arrive. This places Emma in the uncomfortable position of being alone in a carriage with Mr. Elton, which leads to one of literature’s most famous drunk proposals.

The General Consensus: Absurd Reactions to Snow

Modern readers and film viewers love to laugh at the absurd reactions to snow in Emma. We know with absolute certainty that it does not snow very much in England and that the reactions of the characters are overblown.

Take, for example, a sampling of quotes on the scene from past issues of Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal. Louise Flavin calls Mr. Woodhouse an “over-cautious valetudinarian worrying over a half-inch snowfall.” Sara Wingard writes of the “false alarms raised.” Juliet McMaster describes how Mr. Woodhouse “becomes almost catatonic.” Jan Fergus features the scene in an article titled “Male Whiners in Austen’s Novels.”

In Nora Bartlett’s book, Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader, she includes a chapter titled “Emma in the Snow.” She writes:

I have always treasured the snowfall in Chapter 15 of Emma, which endangers no one’s safety, despite Mr. Woodhouse’s fears, but threatens everyone’s equanimity: at the news that snow has fallen while the party from Hartfield is having an unwonted evening out at Randalls, “everybody had something to say”—most of it absurd.

Not Just Mr. Woodhouse

Mr. Woodhouse is often seen as a hypochondriac, and the portrait of him which Austen paints throughout the novel invites us to question his sense and find him amusing. When he learns of the snow, we read that he is “silent from consternation.” When he does speak, he says, “What is to be done, my dear Emma?—what is to be done?” Yet he is not the only character who reacts to the snow as if it is a serious matter.

Many readers have pointed out that the most sensible people during the evening are Emma and Mr. Knightley. Yet earlier in the day, Emma herself anticipates that snow could be a problem:

It is so cold, so very cold—and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out to-day—and dissuade my father from venturing; but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Weston.”

During the snow scene, Mr. Knightley behaves rationally—he steps away from the house and checks on the road, discovering that there is only a half inch of snow. He also converses with the coachmen, who “both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend.” Taking this effort indicates his desire to help Mr. Woodhouse feel comfortable—but it also indicates that he considers it worth checking on the quantity of snow.

Mr. Weston, on the other hand, begins joking about wanting everyone to be trapped in his house:

[He] wished the road might be impassable, that he might be able to keep them all at Randalls; and with the utmost good-will was sure that accommodation might be found for every body, calling on his wife to agree with him, that with a little contrivance, every body might be lodged, which she hardly knew how to do, from the consciousness of there being but two spare rooms in the house.

Meanwhile, Mr. John Knightley speaks of what he perceives as the worst harm that could come to them:

I dare say we shall get home very well. Another hour or two’s snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight.”

It is little wonder that Norah Bartlett concludes that “‘everybody had something to say’—most of it absurd.” There is a beautiful absurdity to the scene, a lovely snapshot of humanity as we see individuals react very differently to a single threat.

Yet while Austen may be intentionally creating a situation meant to be read as absurd, the threat of snow would have felt real to readers of Emma in 1815.

The Snows of Early 1814

The novel Emma was published in December of 1815. Contemporary readers would have recent memories of frightening winters due to the intense snow falls across England during January and February of 1814.

Let’s take, as an example, the reports of snow on January 24th, 1814. In The Times, which was published in London, there was an article titled the “State of the Roads.”

1-Dover Roads

Transcription: State of the Roads. On the Dover road, the snow is 10 and 12 feet deep on the other side of Gravesend, where between 300 and 400 men are employed to clear a passage through it.

Clearly, it is no small matter for the road from London to Dover to be covered with 10 to 12 feet of snow, if more than 300 men were hired to shovel it. Yet it was not just the area southeast of London that was covered by snow. In Exeter—in southwest England—there was 4 to 6 feet of snow. Carriages heading from Bath to Marlborough became stuck in the snow. In Worcester and Gloucester it was reported that “it was as easy to get through a wall as pass the drifts of snow.” Mail coaches from Liverpool and Manchester made it to London, but they “risked their lives” in the process. Huge amounts of snow were also reported in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland. 

The article continues:

4-Never since the establishment

Transcription: Never since the establishment of mail coaches has correspondence met with such general interruption as at present. Internal communication must, of course, remain at a stand till the roads are in some degree cleared; for besides the drifts by which they are rendered impassable, the whole face of the country presenting one uniform sheet of snow, no trace of road is discoverable, and travellers have had to make their path at the risk of being every moment overwhelmed. Waggons, carts, coaches, and vehicles of all descriptions are left in the midst of the storm. The drivers finding they could proceed no further, have taken the horses to the first convenient place, and are waiting until a passage is cut, to enable them to proceed with safety.

We can hardly blame Mr. John Knightley for his speculations about losing a carriage in the snow, when so many travelers in 1814 were forced to abandon their carriages.

On January 25, 1814, The St. James’s Chronicle discussed the potential sewage problems that could overwhelm (or flood) London, should the snow melt quickly. The paper also reported that in the village of Dunchurch, “drifts have exceeded the height of 24 feet.”

This was not snow to laugh at—for weeks the snow built up, making travel near impossible. In London, the Guildhall issued announcements not to shovel the snow from roofs onto the roads, because of the trouble it was causing. The snow did begin to melt, but then it became even colder, so cold in fact that the Thames River froze over in London, and the last London Frost Fair was held on its frozen waters. Printing presses were pulled onto the ice, meat was roasted on fires on the surface of the river, and tents were erected with various attractions. The ice was thick enough that an elephant—yes, an elephant—walked across the river, from one side of the Thames to the other.

Frost_Fair_of_1814_by_Luke_Clenell

The Fair on the Thames, Feb. 1814, by Luke Clenell (art in public domain). (To read more about the frost fair, see the following sources at the bottom of this post: Andrews; de Castella; Frost Fairs; Frostiana; and Knowles.)

The snows in 1814 were not just inconvenient: they were dangerous and sometimes even deadly. 

During the Regency period, it was difficult to stay dry and warm. Two previous posts on Jane Austen’s World address the efforts people took to keep warm in the Regency: part 1 and part 2.

In another article in The St. James’s Chronicle from January 25, 1814, several snow-related injuries were described. First we read that a middle-aged man slipped and fractured his knee, and then we read:

A young Lady of Kentish-town, whose name is Eustace, by passing from thence on Friday to London, by the public foot-path behind the Veterinary College, got completely immersed in a deep ravine by the side of the path which she was attempting to cross. After struggling for some time, she became quite exhausted, and must have fallen a victim to her unfortunate situation, had not two Gentlemen, who witnessed her distress, although at a considerable distance, ventured to her assistance, and relieved her from her perilous situation.”

With vivid prose, the article paints the precarious situation for Eustace—she almost fell “a victim to her unfortunate situation,” or, in other words, she almost froze to death.

While the middle-aged man and Eustace recovered from their mishaps, others were not so fortunate. 

This article, from the 19 January 1814 edition of The Times, reprinted information about deaths in Exeter and Shrewsbury on the 15th of January:

Transcription: Several accidents have occurred, some of which were fatal; on Wednesday a soldier was found dead on Haldon…and yesterday three of the Renfrew Militia were dug out near the same spot, and their bodies conveyed to Chudleigh…. Last week, several of the West Middlesex Militia, who had volunteered for foreign service, were frozen to death on their march from Nottingham. The unfortunate men had been drinking till they were intoxicated, and, lying by the road side, slept—never to wake again!

A week later, on the 26th of January, The Times reported on three more people who died in the snow.

3-Guard of the Glocester - The Times January 26

Transcription: The Guard of the Glocester mail reports, that three persons now lie dead at Burford; one a post-boy, who was dug out of the snow yesterday morning; a farmer, who was frozen to death on horseback; and another person, who died in consequence of the inclemency of the weather.

Reports of deaths caused by snow, ice, and cold were printed regularly in newspapers across the country throughout January and February of 1814. 

Readers of Emma would have read of death after death in the snow. Some of the readers might have become trapped in carriages in the snow, or forced to lodge with an acquaintance during the storm. If they had not personally suffered from the weather, they would have known people who had suffered. Would these readers really have blamed Mr. Woodhouse for asking “What is to be done, my dear Emma?—what is to be done?”

We do not have any letters from Jane Austen written in January or February of 1814, so we cannot directly access her thoughts on these snowfalls, yet we do know that she began writing Emma in January of 1814. She would have been well aware of the public memory that would develop around these snowfalls, and she uses the snow to not only influence the plot of Emma, but to create larger symbolism.

The scholar Elizabeth Toohey makes the argument that Mr. Knightley’s proposal to Emma is superior to Mr. Elton’s, in part because of the snow and all it symbolizes:

“Mr. Elton’s proposal takes place in a closed carriage in a snowfall at night with all the associations of coldness, darkness, and enclosure, in contrast to Mr. Knightley’s proposal, which occurs in the garden in the warmth of a late summer evening.”

Much of the beauty of Mr. Knightley’s proposal derives from its contrast with Mr. Elton’s proposal on a snowy night.

The characters of Emma lived in an age without snow plows, snow tires, or central heating, when large snowfalls were not just an inconvenience. Snow regularly caused disruption, injury, and death.

During their journey to the Westons, as the first snowflakes begin to fall, John Knightley declares:

“The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home—and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it;—and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can.”

John Knightley’s view of snow has a certain soundness to it. Wouldn’t it behoove us all to take what shelter we can during difficult times?

As we read the snow scene in Emma, let us do so with a realization that while Austen may be painting an absurd portrait, the views of these characters are not, in and of themselves, absurd. For 1815 readers, a fear of snow and ice would be justifiable, or at the very least, understandable.

_________________________________________________________________

About the author

Katherine Cowley is the author of the Mary Bennet spy novel, The True Confessions of a London Spy, which features Mary Bennet of Pride and Prejudice in London during January and February of 1814. In addition to surviving epic amounts of snow and attending the last Ice Fair ever held on the Thames, Mary experiences her first London Season and investigates the murder of a messenger for Parliament.

Note from Vic, Jane Austen’s World: In 2021, we reviewed Katherine Cowley’s first mystery in the Mary Bennet series, The Secret Life of Mary Bennet. Attached to it is an interview with the author.

Accessing Regency Newspapers

If you would like to explore Regency newspapers, you can purchase an affordable monthly subscription to the British Newspaper Archive. They have digitized hundreds of newspapers from across the United Kingdom. While to my knowledge individual subscriptions to The Times Digital Archive are not available, many libraries and university libraries have subscriptions that allow you to browse and search the archives of The Times.

References and Further Reading

Andrews, Willam. Famous Frosts and Frost Fairs in Great Britain, George Redway, 1887. Accessed through Project Gutenberg, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55375/55375-h/55375-h.htm, 1 Jan 2022.

Bartlett, Nora. Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader, edited by Jane Stabler, Open Book Publishers, 2021.

de Castella, Tom. “Frost fair: When an elephant walked on the frozen River Thames.” BBC News Magazine, 28 Jan. 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25862141. Accessed 31 Jan. 2022.

Fergus, Jan. “Male Whiners in Austen’s Novels.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, vol. 18, 1996, pp. 98-108.

Flavin, Louise. “Free Indirect Discourse and the Clever Heroine of Emma.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, vol. 13, 1991, pp. 50-57.

“Frost Fairs: Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide. Frost Fairs on the River Thames.” Thames.me.uk, https://thames.me.uk/index.htm. Accessed 31 January 2022.

Frostiana: or a History of The River Thames, In a Frozen State, G. Davis, 1814.  

“Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part One.” Jane Austen’s World, 21 Jan. 2009, https://janeaustensworld.com/2009/01/21/keeping-warm-in-the-regency-era-part-one/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2022.

“Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part Two.” Jane Austen’s World, 3 Feb. 2009, https://janeaustensworld.com/2009/02/03/ways-to-keep-warm-n-the-regency-era-part-2/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2022.

Knowles, Rachel. “The Frost Fair of 1814.” Regency History, 3 Jan. 2021, https://www.regencyhistory.net/2020/05/the-frost-fair-of-1814.html. Accessed 31 Jan. 2022.

McMaster, Juliet. “The Secret Languages of Emma.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, vol. 13, 1991, pp. 119-131.

Mullan, John. “How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the face of fiction.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/05/jane-austen-emma-changed-face-fiction. Accessed 31 January 2022.

The St. James’s Chronicle (London, England), Tuesday, Jan. 25, 1814; pp. 1-4; Issue 8757. Accessed through The British Newspaper Archive 28 Jul. 2020.

The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan. 19, 1814; pp. 1-4; Issue 9122. Accessed through The Times Digital Archive 31 Jan. 2022.

The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan. 24, 1814; pp. 1-4; Issue 9126. Accessed through The Times Digital Archive 27 Jul. 2020.

The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan. 26, 1814; pp. 1-4; Issue 9128. Accessed through The Times Digital Archive 31 Jan. 2022.

Wingard, Sara. “Folks That Go a Pleasuring.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, vol. 14, 1992, pp. 122-131.

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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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A Review by Brenda S. Cox

“I was all in a fright for fear your sister should ask us for the huswifes she had gave us a day or two before”—Anne Steele, Sense and Sensibility, chapter 38

Christmas Ideas

I just finished a fall design, perfect for November. It adorns a “housewife”  (or “huswife”) sewing organizer I’ll give as a Christmas gift. If, like me, you enjoy sewing gifts for people, Jane Austen Embroidery will give you great ideas and patterns. Or, if you want something for a Jane Austen fan, or for someone who enjoys sewing and embroidery, the book itself would be a great gift for them!

Jane Austen Embroidery

Jane Austen Embroidery: Regency Patterns Reimagined for Modern Stitchers, by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin, is a gorgeous book. With glossy pages full of beautiful photos, it’s a delight to read. I have done cross-stitch for many years, and dabbled in other kinds of embroidery, so I enjoyed learning more about stitching in Austen’s England.

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin gives fascinating views of embroidery in Austen’s life and times, and projects for modern stitchers based on patterns of Austen’s time.

The book begins with an introduction exploring “Embroidery in Jane Austen’s Britain.” We learn about Austen’s enjoyment of needlework (which was often just called “work,” in her novels and elsewhere). Some of her contemporaries, including Mary Wollstonecraft, complained that it was drudgery and meaningless work. However, Austen’s letters show that she enjoyed style and had fun fashioning trimmings and garments.

The Lady’s Magazine

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) is the source for the designs in the book. The authors explore the magazine’s history. It covered politics, science, cosmetics, essays, travel writing, poetry, serialized novels, music, and much more. According to Jane Austen Embroidery, The Lady’s Magazine balanced “traditionally feminine and intellectual accomplishments,” encouraging women to take up “the pen, as well as the needle.” Austen did both!

Embroidery patterns in the magazine were usually removed for use. It took the authors five years to track down sixty issues which still had intact patterns.

Readers of the magazine used the patterns with their own choices of colors, sizes, materials, and applications. Jenny Batchelor and Alison Larkin have adapted the patterns to modern materials and uses. They give detailed instructions.

The Lady’s Magazine covered many topics, ranging from politics to cosmetics. It encouraged women to take up the pen as well as the needle. Embroidery patterns were supplied regularly. Lady’s Magazine, August, 1770, public domain via Wikipedia

Overview of Jane Austen Embroidery

Seventeen pages explain in clear detail your options for tools, fabrics, thread, transferring the patterns to fabric, framing, working the stitches, and finishing your projects. I read this all the way through; even experienced stitchers will find helpful ideas here.

Three main sections make up the book: “Embroidered Clothes: Dressed to Impress,” “Embroidered Accessories: How Do You Like My Trimming?”, and “Embroidery for the Home: A ‘Nest of Comforts.” Each begins with an extensive discussion of uses of embroidery in Austen’s England aas well as references in her novels and letters.  For example, the authors say that in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney was telling Catherine what she might write in her journal, he was complimenting her in an indirect way. He said that she “appeared to much advantage” in her “sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings.” Sprigs were flowers or sprays of flowers, hand embroidered or printed onto the fabric.

Sewing Projects

Each section offers five projects with detailed instructions. Projects are marked “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced.” I didn’t notice this until I had already bought the material for an “Advanced” project, but I decided to go with it anyway!

For Beginners, in the first section the book offers a “simple sprig pattern” of two flowers on a stem, and a beaded pencil case with a swirling design from a gown pattern. Intermediate stitchers might sew a sequined evening clutch purse, embroidered from a waistcoat pattern, or an apron with an intricate “fireflower” pattern. Advanced stitchers can try  a “housewife” sewing organizer decorated with an autumn pattern.

Later sections offer a napkin set, cell phone pouch, tablet sleeve, reticule or jewelry pouch, muslin shawl, tea box top, work bag, cushion, sewing set, and tablecloth. All are lovely.

The Regency-Style Reticule or Jewelry Pouch, embroidered and beaded in bronze and gold, would add a lovely accessory to any Regency gown. Jane Austen Embroidery

The book tended to go a little freely between Austen’s time and modern times, so I wasn’t always sure whether techniques, materials, and designs were modern or traditional. But I was usually able to figure it out. Also I would have liked a few more pictures of embroidered items of Austen’s time; these were discussed but few were shown. Though I suppose more pictures would have added to the expense of the book, and it’s not too difficult to find pictures online.

The projects that interest me most were items actually used in Austen’s time: the housewife, reticule, shawl, tea box top, work bag, and sewing set. But modern stitchers might enjoy making things they can use daily, like a cell phone pouch or a tablet sleeve. There are plenty of options!

“Workbags were essential items for every needlewoman in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 126). This Beginner-level project is a “glittering gold and green work bag.” Jane Austen Embroidery

The Housewife (Huswife or Hussif)

To really try this book out, I decided to make the Harvest Housewife. A “housewife”—pronounced “hussif”—was “a folded, rolled purse-like object with internal compartments for carrying needles and needlework accessories” (66). It could also be used for carrying coins, letters, and other items. Miss Bates finds a letter under her housewife or huswif in Emma.

The housewife, huswife, or hussif was a sewing kit. Jane Austen made one for her sister-in-law and wrote a poem to go with it. This is the project in the book. Jane Austen Embroidery

We also know that Jane Austen made a housewife for her friend Mary Lloyd, which Jane’s nephew James-Edward Austen-Leigh described in his Memoir of Jane Austen.

He wrote:

“Her needlework both plain and ornamental was excellent, and might almost have put a sewing machine to shame. She was considered especially great in satin stitch. She spent much time in these occupations, and some of her merriest talk was over clothes which she and her companions were making, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for the poor.

There still remains a curious specimen of her needlework made for a sister-in-law, my mother. In a very small bag is deposited a little rolled up housewife, furnished with minikin needles and fine thread. In the housewife is a tiny pocket, and in the pocket is enclosed a slip of paper, on which, written as with a crow quill, are these lines:  

‘This little bag, I hope, will prove

To be not vainly made;

For should you thread and needles want,

It will afford you aid.  

‘And, as we are about to part,

‘T will serve another end:

For, when you look upon this bag,

You’ll recollect your friend.’ 

“It is the kind of article that some benevolent fairy might be supposed to give as a reward to a diligent little girl. The whole is of flowered silk, and having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made seventy years ago; and shows that the same hand which painted so exquisitely with the pen could work as delicately with the needle.”

As far as I can find out, that housewife is no longer around; at least, I could not find pictures of it. The Jane Austen House Museum does have a little needle case, made of cardstock and felt, which Jane Austen made for her niece; that would be fun to try to recreate.

The Georgian Sewing Set includes a needle case, scissors case, and pincushion. The embroidery designs are from patterns for decorating shoes. Jane Austen Embroidery

My Project

The housewife was definitely an advanced project. Putting together all the pockets and attachments inside was complicated. I asked Alison for a photo of the finished product to help me out, which she cheerfully supplied (see my blog). In the end, however, I made my own modifications to it, so it would hold cross-stich supplies. That was fun and worked well.

The samples in the book are beautifully hand-sewn with silk fabric and threads. However, my money and time are limited, so I decided to use cheaper fabric, DMC thread, and a sewing machine. I spent less than $20. The book lists substitute colors for those who want to use DMC or Anchor thread instead of silks.

I was very pleased with the results. For details, see my post on my blog. My experience shows that you do not need to be an expert stitcher, or spend a lot of money, to make beautiful projects with this book.

My “housewife,” made with inexpensive materials, opened out. See my blog for more detail.

Next I may make an easier project, for myself.

Check this book out if you love sewing and love Jane Austen. Or, give it to your friends who do.

Happy sewing!

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin is published by Dover Publications in the US and Canada, and by Pavilion Books in the UK.

Photographs from the book are by Penny Wincer; used by permission.

You can find Jennie’s fascinating talk on “Crafting with Jane Austen” at Jane Austen & Co. (Go down to the Staying Home with Jane Austen series, then click through the videos listed horizontally below that until you get to “Crafting with Jane Austen.”)

Jennie Batchelor’s website also links to other talks she has given.

Alison Larkin’s website includes blog posts on Georgian embroidery and lovely images

See also my post on Making a Housewife Sewing Organizer.

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

martha-lloyd

Book Cover from Bodleian Shop

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

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

Martha Lloyd in her own light

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

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

Historical context of Martha’s household book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Particulars of Martha Lloyd’s household book

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

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

In conclusion

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

About the author

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

More about Martha Lloyd

Purchase the book

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

UK: Bodleian Shop – Click here to order the book

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

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