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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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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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