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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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Book cover of Jane Austen: The Missing Pieces by Harvey T. Dearden, using the popular profile image as a puzzle.Inquiring readers: Not only did I enjoy reading Jane Austen: The Missing Pieces, but spent many silent hours debating with its author, Harvey T. Dearden, agreeing or disagreeing with his points of view, and thinking back on my history of reading about and researching her life to find how I arrived at my own conclusions. This succinctly written book, only 168 pages long, including endnotes and bibliography, is packed with ideas and suppositions based on Jane Austen’s letters, novels, history, and the scholarly articles and books written about her. 

Introduction:

Like me, author Harvey Dearden is an amateur Janeite with a  keen interest in the topic, but whose area of expertise is in another subject area. In Mr. Dearden’s case, it is as an engineer; in mine it is as a professional development trainer. We do not pretend to be academics. Like amateur scientists in the 19th century who formed societies in pursuit of scientific knowledge, Mr. Dearden and I resemble Janeite enthusiasts the world over – those who study Austen’s novels and life to become well informed and are curious to learn more.

Mr. Dearden’s book, which examines questions regarding the many missing pieces in Jane Austen’s life and work, is divided into short chapters in a variety of topics, all of which pose questions or suppositions which readers and scholars have addressed about Austen for ages. Supporting evidence in these instances may be hard to find or might once have existed (such as in her letters to Cassandra and members of her family) but have either been destroyed or might be hiding undiscovered in an attic. 

Jane’s Face:

Here’s how my reaction and silent debate with Mr. Rearden’s conjectures worked, and why I took longer to read this book than I at first anticipated:

One tantalizing question most of us have is: “What Did Jane Austen Look Like?” The author addresses this in a chapter titled “Jane’s Face.” (p.99.) He refers to Cassandra’s small watercolor portrait of her sister, (which, in my instance, I saw as an American tourist in the National Portrait Gallery) and which he (and most of us) characterizes as an amateurish attempt; the engraved image included in James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of his aunt, which was a supposed “improvement” upon Cassandra’s real life attempt; Jane’s engraved image on the 10 pound bank note; and recent forensic artists’ attempts at recreating her image in painting and sculpture according to family descriptions, family portrait resemblances, and physical traits that descendants have in common with the Austen bloodline. (Compare the images of actress Anna Chancellor, a direct descendent of the Austen family, [she played Caroline Bingley in P&P 1995] to Cassandra’s portrait of Jane and one of her father,  and you will see a family resemblance in the dark eyes, long nose, and smallish, tight mouth.)

Mr. Dearden’s clear language, his engineer’s logic, and his talented wife, Linda’s, lovely pencil portrait of Jane Austen, based on a portrait bust by sculpturist Suzie Zamit, makes sense from his POV and logic. I respect his conclusion and the two artist’s representations, so why am I introducing my own interpretation? First, because Mr. Dearden invites inquiry and makes it clear that our informed guesses are as good as his.

Second, because I’ve been trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art and practiced as a successful local artist in Charlottesville for ten years. My experience painting a family member’s portrait places me in a unique position to discuss the difficulty of capturing a likeness of a stern-faced woman. Mom and Dad Sanborn (my in-laws) had their portraits captured by a local artist, a talented man who delineated their features perfectly. Dad’s face showed a kind, smiling man. Mom looked like a mirthless, tight-lipped school marm. She framed Dad’s portrait, hung it in his study, and tore her portrait up. She then commissioned me to paint her. Aaargh! 

I could have fallen into a trap, for I considered her first portrait an accurate representation of her features. What the artist did not capture was her personality. So I asked the family how they viewed her, and thought about my relationship with her and her kindness, sweetness, and willingness to put family and friends above herself. The changes I made in her portrait were to enlarge her eyes slightly and soften her prim mouth into a half smile. I removed many of her wrinkles and worked on the pencil sketches a long time before embarking on the painting. She loved it. The family loved it. And none realized that I had cheated in favor of personality over feature accuracy. What they saw in my portrait was MOM.

This brings me to Cassandra’s watercolor of her sister. We Janeites have formed a personal connection to Jane Austen and have our own perceptions of how she might have looked. Cassandra’s watercolor, drawn and painted by an amateur, portrays a tight-faced woman with arms crossed in a protective, stay-away-from-me body language. The painting is extremely small and I would have used a smaller brush to paint her features, but it also lacks any semblance to the descriptions that Jane’s family gave us: her sparkling eyes, her liveliness and sense of humor, and one who enjoyed a loving relationship as a daughter, sister, and aunt.

I speculate that Jane felt comfortable to be totally herself in front of Cassandra, and that she might have been thinking about writing, editing, or correcting a particularly difficult passage she’d been working on, thus the “resting bitch face.”  As for us, her fans, we are still searching for that illusive image that reflects our knowledge of her, our personal relationship with her, and our own interpretation of what she might have looked like.

I spent a long time on my reaction to this 7-page chapter to illustrate that, while Mr. Dearden’s book is succinct, well-thought out, and clearly written, his speculations inspired me to examine my knowledge of Austen and how and why I reacted the way I did to her many mysteries. At times I agreed with him completely, but at other times I paused to think back on how I came to a different conclusion. 

I suspect Mr. Dearden would enjoy a healthy debate, as would I. I’d like to add that reading this book gave me great enjoyment and pleasure, and much food for thought.

Addendum: Denise Holcomb contributed her image of Austen portraits in a Will & Jane exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. in 2016.  She took an image of the progression of 3 portraits of Austen, from Cassandra’s rendition to the Memoir engraving.

The book’s organization:

This book is organized in such a fashion as to facilitate how the author arrived at his conclusions. Sources are listed after each chapter. The bibliography lists most of the books and resources I’ve used, but a few are included from authors that I have not read before, such as Marian Veevers.  Mr. Dearden backs up his arguments using Austen’s letters from Deirdre LeFaye’s excellent, fully inclusive edition, direct quotes from family and friends, evidence in Jane’s novels, and examples of her manuscripts digitized online at the Bodleian Library, for example.

Images of Jane Austen taken in progression from 1810 to an engraved portrait in 1870, Folger Exhibit, 2016.

Image taken by D. Holcomb at the Folger Exhibit, 2016.

I loved how the author used his engineer’s logic to consider the size and weight of the quatros of letters from Jane that Cassandra must have stored over the years, and the difficulty and the considerable time it would have taken her to burn those that she did not want to keep for posterity. He used both LeFaye’s information and his precise mathematical skills to calculate the sheer effort it would have taken Cassandra to burn those letters. 

I feel that Mr. Dearden missed one opportunity when he introduced Charlotte Bronte’s three letters regarding her opinion about Austen’s talent and genius. I loved that he reproduced the letters in full, which placed some of her more controversial opinions in context. Bronte could not have known of Austen’s Juvenilia at this time, but it bears repeating that the lack of passion that she accuses Austen of not having was displayed in full in these exuberant scribblings of a young and budding genius. 

For Janeites who are new to this conversation, this book will be a valuable addition. I see it as a great conversation starter for a book group who could use its list of topics for discussion over a year of meetings, or as a source of Austen resources that add value to any Janeite’s library collection. The bibliography for the neophyte Janeite, combined with Le Faye’s meticulous listing of all her known existing letters, provide an immediate resource for those who are only familiar with Austen’s novels and would like to know more about Austen’s conversational style and the missing information about her.

Riddles and word games abound in Emma. This book puzzles out the many mysteries in Austen’s life and continues that tradition. Dearden’s conclusion fits my assessment of Austen and why her novels attract readers with different political backgrounds, religions, sexes, and ages the world over.

“She is celebrated for the nicety of her language and, preferring the rapier to the bludgeon, she could use it in a most cutting manner. There is plenty of evidence for this in her private correspondence. There is with Jane no self-indulgent ornamentation beyond the immediate purpose of her stories. She would have wielded Occam’s razor with admirable zeal.” 

Purchase the book:

Amazon US: Click here

Amazon UK: Click here

About the author: 

Harvey T. Dearden Linked In portrait

Author Harvey T. Dearden

Harvey T. Dearden is a Chartered Engineer who works as a consultant in the process industries (power, oil and gas, chemicals, etc.; basically those with something in a pipe)…He is married to an Anglesey girl and lives in north Wales. He has one child who is mum to Otts [to whom this book is dedicated.]

This book is a family affair and I wish to record my gratitude to my daughter, Lucy Dearden Jones for the editing, my wife, Linda Dearden, for the portrait sketch of Jane and first proofreading, and to my niece, Alexandra Parkinson, for the book cover.

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I’ve always been intrigued by the friendship between Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd. (Who wouldn’t want to be close friends with Jane Austen?) When I saw Zöe Wheddon’s new book, Jane Austen’s Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd, I knew I had to have it.

As a lifelong student of Jane Austen’s life and works, I particularly enjoy books that focus on one aspect of her life. It’s helpful to have gathered into one place all of the information I want to read on a certain topic. Jane Austen’s Best Friend tells the story of Jane and Martha’s friendship and brings together many of the finer details of Martha’s life and her impact on Jane as a person and a writer.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Dodge

I was personally touched by the closeness that was shared by Cassandra, Jane, and Martha. Jane’s deep affection and care for both her sister and her friend are clear. I took note of the fact that Jane formed her strongest bonds with women who were wise and clever, devoted and kind. Her active mind needed people who could keep up with her quick wit—and even challenge her and keep her on her toes—and Martha seems to have fit the bill perfectly.

“I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power.—She is very cunning, but I see through her design;–she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.”

Jane Austen in a letter to Cassandra, June 11, 1799.

While this book takes on a lighter, more modern tone, the research is thorough and detailed. Jane’s letters to and about Martha reveal yet another warm, loving relationship in her close circle. The early years of their friendship were marked by silliness, witty remarks, dresses, and balls. Later, their relationship deepened as they walked through pain, loss, change, and grief together. Martha’s inner strength seems to have been particularly important in Jane’s life, especially as she grew older, began to see success as an author, and later became ill.

When I set out to read Jane Austen’s Best Friend, I wasn’t sure how much information could be found about Martha herself, but after reading it, I was amazed at just how much there is to learn about Martha Lloyd. While I enjoyed reading about the bosom friendship between Jane and Martha, I was blown away by Martha herself. She was truly a remarkable woman, and I could have just as happily read a book based solely on her life. It’s easy to see why she and Jane became as close as sisters. I’ve always wished I could spend a day with Jane Austen, but now I’d like to spend a day with these two friends. It certainly seems like they never ran out of things to say or do—and they always had a lot of fun along the way.

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about Martha Lloyd and her friendship with Jane Austen, this is the place to start!

Stay tuned next month as I interview Zöe and share details about her inspiration for Jane Austen’s Best friend, her thoughts on friendship, and some of her favorite highlights from her research for the book.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A native of Jane Austen’s beloved county of Hampshire, Zöe lives in a North Hampshire village, on the outskirts of the town that she and her husband Matt both grew up in, with their 3 grown up children and their cat Leia. When she is not researching or writing, Zöe can be found in the classroom teaching Spanish and French or singing ABBA songs loudly in her kitchen. People can get to know her better at www.zoewheddon.co.uk.

Zoe Wheddon, Author

ABOUT THE BOOK

JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD is a heart-warming examination of the ‘recipe for friendship’ between Jane Austen, (with whom all Janeites are best friends in their imaginations,) and Martha Lloyd. In looking back somewhat longingly at Martha and Jane’s strong and enduring bond we can examine all their interests, including the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their family histories, their lucky breaks and their girly chats.

Through an examination of the defining moments of their shared lives together, the book gives readers an insight into the inner circle of the famously enigmatic and private authoress and the life changing force of their friendship.

All fans for Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that. JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND: THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF MARTHA LLOYD offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. Each chapter details fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.

Available in the USA with Pen and Sword/Casemate.


PURCHASE LINKS:


Amazon (US)
Barnes and Noble (US)
Bookshop.org (UK)



SOCIAL MEDIA

Instagram – Zoe_Wheddon
Website – www.zoewheddon.co.uk
Twitter – @ZoeWheddon
Facebook – @authorzoewheddon


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

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Vic’s Review

Mary-Bennet-Cover-Smaller-VersionImagine a mystery novel that features Mary Bennet as its investigative heroine! Author Katherine Cowley’s choice of Mary, the largely unnoticed Bennet daughter in Pride and Prejudice, piqued my interest. While Cowley kept some of Mary’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities as the middle child, she has created a sympathetic character, whose strengths as a keen observer accustomed to sitting on the sidelines help her solve a murder.

The book opens just after Mr Bennet’s death, with 19-year-old Mary sitting vigil near her father’s body at Longbourn. It is night and the house is deathly quiet. As she reminisces about past regrets and current events, she comes to dread her future as an unmarried daughter. Her safest choice would be to live with Mrs Bennet, but Mary wants to leave Meryton and wonders if she should take the bold step of earning her own way in life, as a governess perhaps? 

Her reveries are interrupted by the sound of a carriage. Not expecting company at such a late hour, Mary reluctantly asks a maid to let the mysterious visitors in. The door opens to two strangers, Lady Trafford, a strong-willed woman who rarely considers the word “no” as an answer to her requests, and her secretive nephew, Mr. Withrow. Lady Trafford ostensibly came to pay her respects to the mourning family, claiming kinship, but the reason for her visit soon becomes clear—to offer Mary an invitation to live with her at Castle Durrington in Sussex, for reasons that don’t quite make sense to the young woman.

After some persuasion and mental list-making, Mary accepts Lady Trafford’s invitation, and so her adventures as a sleuth begin. The following passage with Mrs Bennet, Lady Trafford, and Mary gives you some idea of Cowley’s writing style, which is her own, but echoes Jane Austen’s in a delightful way:

“Surely it is owed to us, Mary, for you to have such an opportunity. Especially as you are not beautiful like your sisters, and you have had no suitors.”

“I have already made up my mind, Mother.”

“You cannot possibly think to turn down Lady Trafford’s offer! What an inconsiderate child you are.”

“I did not say how I had made up my mind.”

“What do you say, Miss Bennet? Will you join me at Castle Durrington?”

“How big is your library?” asked Mary. “And do you have a pianoforte?”- p.56

In her first days at the castle, Mary becomes embroiled in a mystery. Then, during a brisk walk to the Sussex coast, she stumbles upon a body lying face down in the sea. After meeting a few more characters and getting to know Lady Trafford and Mr Withrow better, she no longer knows who to trust. Given free rein to Castle Durrington’s library, her research leads her to more unsettling truths. 

Cowley writes the book from Mary’s point of view, which is refreshing, for we come to know her as a fully realized person, one who is willing to learn and eager to take lessons to improve herself. She is a careful list maker and planner, and one who combines the characteristics of a good investigator—that of an observant, nondescript, determined, and note-taking woman—who people seldom notice. 

This first published book by Katherine Cowley will appeal to readers who enjoy murder mysteries set in the Regency era with a castle and rugged English coastline as a setting. Readers are also given a host of suspects to suss out until the solution is revealed. I had a great time sussing wilst arriving at my own conclusions to the mystery in this novel!

Interview with Katherine Cowley 

  1. Photo of Katherine Cowley

    Katherine Cowley

    What about Mary Bennet’s character appealed to you to write about her? Which of her traits in Pride and Prejudice did you develop to further and enhance your mystery plot for this novel and make her more interesting?

One of the things that appealed to me most about Mary Bennet is the fact that others overlook her—she is ignored, dismissed, and snubbed. And shouldn’t those who are quiet and overlooked be able to have their own stories, their own adventures?

Mary Bennet is very analytical, she loves to read, and she’s good at remembering things. Like Mary, I know what it’s like to say the wrong thing in a group setting, or to embarrass myself in conversation, or to not feel comfortable in all situations. 

So much is left open about Mary’s character—what is it that she wants? It’s clear that she wants to read and play the pianoforte and have peace and quiet, and there’s a brief mention by Austen that Mary had hoped Mr. Collins would propose to her. But beyond that, we don’t know what Mary wants. In part, I wrote this book to figure that out.

In terms of characteristics that I developed, I played up Mary’s observational skills, and I gave her a desire to learn French and drawing. Also, if Mary does not know what to do in a situation, she’ll think about what one of her sisters would do in such a moment, and often that ends up being the perfect action for her to take.

  1. Briefly describe your writing process for us (if this is possible). What I mean is, did you develop a plot outline first (with the ending always in mind)? And then allowed the characters to speak to you as you wrote about them? Or did you “stay with the program?” You also mentioned a community of writing help in your acknowledgments—how did they influence your thoughts before, during, and after the process?

I would categorize myself as both an outliner and a discovery writer. I did write an outline before the first draft, with some of the major events I wanted in the story (for example, I knew I wanted French and drawing lessons, and I knew I needed a big ball scene that had all sorts of mystery and intrigue and would also act as an important moment for Mary’s character). I also had a very clear vision of what the final chapter would look like. 

But then I “discovered” (or figured out as I went along) all sorts of characters and events and situations as I wrote.

I don’t know the exact how length of my first draft, but the second draft of the novel was about 55,000 words. While there was mystery, there was not a dead body—it was not yet a murder mystery. That came in a later draft.

I wrote five drafts of the novel before querying literary agents. My writing group read one chapter a month and gave me feedback, and I sent the second, third, and fourth draft of my novel to new sets of readers—a mixture of other writers and trusted readers who love Jane Austen. This community was so helpful in helping me refine my ideas, improve my writing, solve plot problems, and figure out what was and was not working.

I wrote two additional drafts with my literary agent (the first was a major revision, and the second was a minor revision). After my book was acquired by my publisher, I did a revision with the editor, a second revision to shorten the book by 1000 words, a copy edit, and proofreads.

Now that it’s finished, the novel is about 90,000 words (so 35,000 words longer than the second draft). It was a lengthy process to get the story from where it started to where it is today.

  1. In this day and age, it is unusual for a new author to have a book published, but you have two more Mary Bennet mystery sequels in the pipeline. Kudos! I suspect this has more to do with hard work than luck. What advice would you give to other hopeful authors who are writing their first books?

If you’re writing a first book, my biggest advice is to keep writing, and to push through and finish the book. When I first began trying to write books, I started a lot of novels that I never finished, sometimes due to perfectionism or not knowing what I wanted to do with the story or because I became distracted by a shiny new idea.

I learned a lot from books that helped me understand structure and plot, and there’s so much you can learn about writing craft from the Internet, from books, and from writing conferences. But there’s a lot that you can only learn by doing it. Push through, finish a first draft, and let go of perfectionism. And then take the time to get feedback from other writers and revise, revise, revise. Then, if you would like to publish the book, make sure to take the time to learn all you can about publication and different publishing options.

__________________
The book will be available on April 22nd, 2021. Find purchase information for preordering in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and other locations on Katherine Cowley’s site.

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by Brenda S. Cox

“Of these three, and indeed of all, Miss Lambe was beyond comparison the most important and precious, as she paid in proportion to her fortune. She was about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, had a maid of her own, was to have the best room in the lodgings, and was always of the first consequence in every plan of Mrs. Griffiths.” – Sanditon

This is the only time Jane Austen clearly introduces a black or mixed-race character in her fiction. And we don’t know what direction she was going to go with this young lady. (Though obviously the producers of Sanditon have made their own speculations, as have the authors of completions of the novel. My favorite completion, by the way, is here.)

My favorite completion of Jane Austen’s Sanditon is by Jane Austen and “Another Lady.”

Austen’s inclusion of a mixed-race character raises questions for us today:

  • How many black and mixed-race people were there in Austen’s England?
  • Is she likely to have known any of them?
  • What were their lives like?
  • How did Austen’s society view them and treat them?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this topic, and it’s hard to find solid answers. However, the series of posts that I’m starting today will look at the question from different angles. We’ll start today with some indications from fiction of Austen’s time. Then we’ll look at statistics from official records, using Kathleen Chater’s Untold Histories.  We’ll also look at what art of the time can tell us, and consider the lives of some individual black and mixed-race people. Each of these lenses will give us a little clearer picture of black people’s lives in Austen’s England.

Miss Lambe

Miss Lambe is “half mulatto.” Nowadays “mulatto” is an offensive term, as it is based on the word “mule”; mixed-race people were believed to be sterile like mules. (Though there must have been plenty of evidence to the contrary!) But I don’t think Austen is using it pejoratively. She is simply describing Miss Lambe’s background. It sounds like Miss Lambe had a parent who was half-black and half-white, most likely her mother, and a white parent. Such pairings were quite common in the West Indies. A plantation owner might well leave his wealth to a mixed-race child.

Austen calls Miss Lambe “chilly and tender.” “Chilly” probably meant that the weather of England was too cold for her, compared to the West Indies where she grew up. “Tender” probably meant that she was delicate, easily becoming ill. Though as I imagine Miss Lambe, I like to think that “tender” also meant she was kind and gentle.

Austen sometimes describes people, such as Marianne Dashwood and Henry Tilney, as having a “brown” complexion. There’s been some speculation that she may mean to imply mixed racial backgrounds. That’s possible, but it seems a little unlikely to me. It sounds like Austen is just describing minor variations in skin tones. She usually pairs “brown” skin with dark eyes and dark hair. In one other reference, Miss Bingley says Elizabeth Bennet has become “brown and coarse.” Darcy says she is tanned from traveling in the summer.

The Woman of Colour is an anonymous novel published in 1808 about an heiress like Miss Lambe. The modern version edited by Lyndon J. Dominique includes much helpful background information and excerpts from other fiction and nonfiction of the time.

Back to Miss Lambe. We can get some idea of what her life might have been like from a novel of the time. The Woman of Colour: A Tale  was published anonymously in London in 1808, nine years before Austen began writing Sanditon. Professor Lyndon J. Dominique has edited a modern version, full of helpful background information.

Modern scholars speculate that the writer was herself a “woman of colour,” the mixed-race daughter of a West Indies planter, but we don’t know for sure who wrote the book. “People of color” may be used today to describe people of various races. However, eighteenth-century British people used it to refer to certain groups of free people in the Americas. Some included free black people, but others used the term only for those of mixed race (p. 21 in The Woman of Colour).

The novel is a series of letters from Olivia Fairfield to her former governess in Jamaica. Olivia, the daughter of a white plantation owner and a black slave, is on her way to England. Her loving father knows that because of her skin color she will never be treated as an equal by the planters of Jamaica. So he arranges that after his death she will travel to England. In England, laws and attitudes toward mixed-race people were less harsh, and tender-hearted Olivia wouldn’t have to see the suffering of the black people she identifies with. Her father, in his will, has arranged for her to marry her cousin, who will then inherit her fortune.

Already we find an interesting contrast. While black people were often treated horrifically in the West Indies, they found more acceptance in England itself.

Prejudices

The story shows some examples of prejudices that black and mixed-race people experienced in England at this time. Olivia and her black maid are called names, and yet they earn a place in society.

At her first English ball, Olivia is “an object of pretty general curiosity” (84). She says, “My colour, you know, renders me remarkable” (84). People stare at her “as if they had been invited purposely to see the untamed savage at a shilling a piece!” However, one gentleman, who calls her a “native,” adds, “In native elegance unrivalled! . . . More grace, more expression, more characteristic dignity, I never yet beheld in one female figure!” His friend calls her a “sable goddess.” Olivia enjoys the dancing, but complains that rather than rational people, she finds only “folly and dissimulation” (88).

Olivia’s maid Dido is a black woman. Though not enslaved, she seems the stereotype of the faithful black slave. She speaks in “half-broken language” (57), presumably a Jamaican dialect. She loves Olivia dearly and serves her faithfully. Olivia also loves Dido. In town, Dido says she is called names like “blacky” and “wowsky” and “squabby” and “guashy,” “and all because she has a skin not quite so white,–God Almighty help them all.” (“Wowski” was the name of an American Indian woman in a novel of 1787; “Quasheba” was the name of dark-skinned characters in novels of 1767 and 1798.) Dido says even a maid treats her like a slave. But she looks forward to their home in the countryside, where she will be the housekeeper and be in charge. Once in the country, she wins the affection of the “peasants” with her warm heart (105).

Olivia’s husband’s young nephew George thinks Olivia’s skin is “dirty” and Dido’s even dirtier. Olivia explains to him, “The same God that made you made me . . . the poor black woman—the whole world—and every creature in it! A great part of the world is peopled by creatures with skins as black as Dido’s, and as yellow as mine. God chose it should be so, and we cannot make our skins white, any more than you can make yours black” (79).

They go on to discuss the evils of slavery. The child has heard the coachman saying that “black slaves are no better than horses over there,” and Olivia explains, “Those black slaves are, by some cruel masters, obliged to work like horses . . . but God Almighty created them men, equal with their masters, if they had the same advantages, and the same blessings of education.” Olivia says that human feelings and religious principles, as well as “kindred claims,” impel her to pray for the end of slavery, the emancipation of her brethren (80-81).

Once Olivia is married and living in the countryside, she meets “East Indian Nabobs,” a family who made their fortune in India, and finds them proud and selfish. However, she is completely accepted into the social circles of her area. The most prejudice she experiences is from her sister-in-law, who is a conniving, selfish woman.

The Woman of Colour: A Tale  shows some of the prejudices against black and mixed-race people in England. Nevertheless, it also implies that people of color were fully accepted in English society, particularly if they had wealth, like Austen’s Miss Lambe.

Jane Austen’s niece Anna Austen Lefroy made the earliest attempt to complete Sanditon.

Religious Themes

The novel has many Christian themes. At this time, Christians in England, led by William Wilberforce’s “Clapham Sect,” were pushing strongly to abolish the slave trade and then slavery. Literature was one of their most important means of raising public awareness and calling for compassion for oppressed people. Evangelical Hannah More was writing tracts like “The Sorrows of Yamba: or, The Negro Woman’s Lament,” a story about an enslaved woman whose baby died in her arms on a slave ship. William Cowper, Jane Austen’s beloved poet, wrote poems condemning slavery. Cowper wrote, “We have no slaves at home – then why abroad? . . . 
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free,
They touch our country and their shackles fall.” (This wasn’t strictly true, in legal terms, but was widely believed. It does point out the radical difference, though, between British colonies where slavery was part of the economy, and Britain itself.) While we don’t know who wrote The Woman of Colour, the book seems to fit with other such literature that put a human face on enslaved peoples and called for Christian compassion toward them.

Olivia’s mother was her father’s slave and his mistress. He taught her Christian faith, which she accepted eagerly. But she also learned from the church that her relationship with him was wrong, since they weren’t married. She confronted him, but he was too proud and too prejudiced to marry her. She died in childbirth. Olivia’s father raised her, gave her a good education, then sent her to England.

Her cousin Augustus, a good man, is at first repelled by Olivia’s dark complexion. However, he soon realizes that she has “a noble and dignified soul.”

Olivia is “a stranger in a strange land, where she is more likely to receive contumely [contempt] than consideration . . . a superior being, and . . . the child of humanity, the citizen of the world, with a heart teeming with benevolence and mercy towards every living creature!—She is accomplished and elegant; but her accomplishments are not the superficial acquirements of the day,–they are the result of application and genius in unison” (102-3).

In fact, Augustus and Olivia, both epitomes of beauty, intelligence, and virtue, seem to be made for each other. They marry and live happily. But—I won’t spoil it—something happens to destroy their happiness. Interestingly, the person who destroys their marriage is motivated by greed, jealousy, and class prejudices, not racial prejudices.

Olivia ends up alone, but she bears it well and peacefully. Throughout the story, she turns to God in all her trials and fears. The story ends by spelling out the moral: In times of calamity, we should seek God. Faith in God can enable us to become resigned to any hard situation.

The original editor adds that if the book can “teach [even] one skeptical European to look with a compassionate eye towards the despised native of Africa—then, whether Olivia Fairfield’s be a real or an imaginary character, I shall not regret that I have edited the Letters of a Woman of Colour!” (189)

Another cover for Sanditon completed by “Another Lady”; other completions are also available by other authors.

Other Fiction of Austen’s Time

Lyndon J. Dominique, who edited the modern version of The Woman of Colour: A Tale, provides a timeline of “Women of Color in Drama and Long Prose Fiction” from 1605 to 1861. He lists 37 publications during Austen’s lifetime with black or mixed-race characters, including Sanditon. It seems likely that as an avid reader, Austen was probably familiar with some of these, or earlier ones.

Dominique includes excerpts from a few of these works, including:

Lucy Peacock’s “The Creole” (1786). A creole heiress (who may be white or mixed-race) loses her fortune to an unscrupulous husband. Only her “honest negroes” console her (196). Again there is a Christian message. The creole lady writes, “Surely . . . we have no right to tyrannize over, and treat as brutes, those who will doubtless one day be made partakers with us of an immortality. Have they not the same faculties, the same passions, and the same innate sense of good and evil? Should we, then, who are enlightened by the holy precepts of Christianity, refuse to stretch forth the friendly hand, to point these human affections to the most laudable purposes, the glory of God, and the real advantage of society?” (196) She frees her slaves.

Agnes Musgrave’s Solemn Injunctions (1798).  At a boarding school, a girl is jealous of a talented, amiable young lady from the West Indies. So she “insinuates” that the girl has black ancestry and should be rejected. The other West Indian girls bring the prejudices of the islands with them to school. “In the West Indies the distinction is kept up by the women with so scrupulous an exactness, as never to mix, on equal terms, with people so descended”: they would not mix with any “child of mixed blood whose ancestors within the fourth degree of descent were negroes” (215). Here again the prejudices of the West Indies are much stronger than the prejudices of England.

Other stories include mixed-race heiresses like Olivia who are beautiful, well-educated, and virtuous Christians. They also include people who condemn “vulgar” black people. It appears that some of these stories, like The Woman of Colour, were written at least partly to help counteract prejudices and support anti-slavery causes.

I suspect Jane Austen’s Miss Lambe would have been a more balanced character then those we find in other novels of the time. Austen did not write stereotypes. However, Austen was strongly opposed to slavery* and probably would have presented Miss Lambe positively.

The Woman of Colour also includes nonfiction excerpts of the time which confirm some of the attitudes and situations represented in the novel. For example, a copy of a Jamaican planter’s will, leaving his fortune to his “reputed daughters” born of his black mistress, shows that there were mixed-race West Indian heiresses.

Next month we’ll look at who the black people in England were at this time, how they got there, and what social classes they belonged to. Scholar Kathleen Chater searched through a huge number of primary sources to find that information, so I’ll share some of that with you, from her book Untold Histories.

If you are familiar with other fiction of Austen’s era that includes black characters, tell us about those characters! Or, if you’ve read The Woman of Colour, what did you learn from it or think about it?

Learning More

On Friday, April 9, from 5:00 – 6:30 PM EDT, Professor Dominique will be giving an online seminar on “Political Blackness in The Woman of Colour,” discussing the novel he edited. You can sign up at Jane Austen & Co. The recorded talk is now available there.

If you want to start exploring more on this topic on your own, in the tabs above, under History, scroll down until you find the section I’ve added on Black History, or see Resources. It will give you a wide variety of resources to start investigating.

*I don’t intend to look at slavery in the British colonies, or abolition, in this series, but you’ll also find sources addressing those areas among the resources listed. “Austen and Antigua—Slavery in Her Time”  is a good discussion of Jane Austen’s comments on slavery and her family’s connections with slave plantations.

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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