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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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Sir Thomas More will be familiar to many of us from Robert Bolt’s stage play and 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, and from Hilary Mantel’s more recent book, Wolf Hall. For those persons who confine their reading to the six novels of a certain Georgian lady and don’t recognize his name, he was Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, under King Henry VIII. He steadfastly refused to condone Henry’s desire to break from the Catholic Church to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry’s solution was to order his execution.

 

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Neither the historical record nor the dramatisations document his descendant lines to any extent, but Sir Thomas and his wife Jane Colt established a fertile line of progeny. A genealogist and descendant, the late Martin Wood, in his book The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More) [1] thought that the tally so far could number one hundred thousand. What has never been on the public record is a direct family connection between Sir Thomas and Jane Austen. The link is in the maternal line of Mrs. Austen, Cassandra Leigh, through her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Dawtrey.

George Austen and Cassandra Leigh both had some knowledge of their fathers’ ancestries but, I suspect, little of their mothers’. Cassandra was proud of her paternal lineage – her great-grandfather was the 8th Lord Chandos, her great-uncle was the first Duke of Chandos, and her distant cousin Edward Leigh was Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh. Her mother Jane Leigh (née Walker) lived with the Austens at Steventon for the last four years of her life, and the first four of their marriage. Of the Austens’ parents she was the one best known to them, and it seems safe to assume that she’d have talked about her forebears. However the current record of Cassandra’s maternal family extends back only to her great-grandmother, and it’s likely that she knew nothing of earlier generations.

Until recently I had not given Anne Dawtrey any attention – her son-in-law (and Cassandra’s maternal grandfather) John Walker, ‘Doctor of Physick at the University of Oxford,’ had both dominated and frustrated my attention. I have to report that he continues to elude not just me, but several archivists at the University of Oxford as well.

The only detail recorded for Anne, confirmed by the licence allegation for her marriage to James Perrott (dated 23 November, 1667) [2], was that she was of Petworth in Sussex. When I got round to looking, the Dawtreys revealed themselves to have been a long-established Petworth family, with additional estates in Essex and Suffolk. They were wealthy enough to leave Last Wills and Testaments that are preserved at The National Archives [3]; and bore Arms (that is, heraldic Arms), so their pedigree is recorded in the Sussex County Visitations [4]. Working through those and other sources, I was able to establish that Anne’s great-great grandfather was William Dawtrey, who had been elected MP for Sussex in 1563 and died in 1591, and that his wife was Margaret. 

Margaret’s surname had been recorded as Rogers in the Visitations; it was only on finding William’s biography in the website of The History of Parliament [5] that I learnt that she was in fact a Roper, and that she was the daughter of William Roper of Eltham, Kent. It didn’t take long to discover that this was the William Roper who had married Margaret More, the devoted daughter of Sir Thomas More. (William Roper was Sir Thomas’s first biographer; Margaret More, besides supporting her fsther during his trial, retrieved his head from the executioner; it is now interred in the Roper vault under the Chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury.)

Anne Dawtrey was a 4th-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas; Jane Austen was an 8th-great-granddaughter. While researching Jane’s maternal pedigrees I have found many very interesting ancestors, but none so surprising as Sir Thomas. The chance that she knew this is negligible! If these details have any bearing on Jane Austen herself, it’s in the way that they illustrate that her descent was through some of the most interesting people in British history.

In the preceding paragraph I wrote “none so surprising as Sir Thomas.” But here’s another detail that comes close. Sir Thomas More’s parents, Sir John More (a Judge of the Common Pleas and of the King’s Bench) and Alice Graunger, had four surviving children, of whom he was the second eldest. His youngest sibling, Elizabeth, married John Rastell, and they too established a successful line of progeny.  One of their great-grandsons was amongst the worthiest of Jane Austen’s distant cousins, the great English poet John Donne.

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About the author:

Ronald Dunning is the creator of the Ancestry.com “Jane Austen Family Tree,” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!

References:

[1] The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More. Martin Wood. Gracewing, Leominster, 2008. ISBN 978 0 85244 681 2

[2] Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Harleian Society Vol. XXIII, 1886. p.142

[3] Probate Records:

William Roper, PROB 11/60/365 (in which he names his ‘daughter Dawtrey’)

William Dawtrey (d.1591) PROB 11/78/329

Sir Henry Dawtrey (d. 1646) PROB 11/196/139

William Dawtrey (d.ca 1679) PROB 11/361/238

[4] Visitations of Sussex for 1530 and 1633-4; Harleian Society, London, Vol.LIII, 1905; p.32

[5] History of Parliament Online: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/dawtrey-william-1591

Read other articles by Mr. Dunning

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By Brenda S. Cox

“God grant me patience, Pray for me Oh Pray for me.” –Jane Austen’s last recorded words, from Cassandra’s letter to Fanny Knight, July 20, 1817

You probably know that Jane Austen died young, at age 41, on July 18, 1817.

What did she die of? We don’t know, but many scholars have speculated. Most of these conditions had not even been identified in Austen’s time.

Her Symptoms

From letters we learn that Austen had:

  • Fluctuating symptoms, better, worse, better, worse
  • Pain in her face (Sept. 15 and 24, 1813, exacerbated by cold air), back (Sept. 8, 1816), and knee (Feb. 21, 1817), though not much pain near the end
  • Discoloration of skin, especially face, “black and white and every wrong color” (March 25, 1817)
  • Pale skin (from her niece Caroline’s observations)
  • Recurrent fevers (March 25, April 6, 1817)
  • Sleepless nights
  • A clear mind (she wrote a poem on Winchester Races shortly before her death)
  • Fatigue, weakness, langour, often needing to lie down (May 22, 1817, as well as months before that)
  • A “Discharge” for a week, which the “applications” of a Winchester doctor alleviated (May 22, 1817)
  • A seizure near the very end; when repeated, Cassandra describes it as faintness (July 20, 1817)

Her Self-Diagnosis

What did Austen think she had? On Jan. 24, 1817, she wrote, “I am more & more convinced that Bile is at the bottom of all I have suffered, which makes it easy to know how to treat myself.” And again on April 6, “I have been suffering from a Bilious attack, attended with a good deal of fever.”

Bile is often mentioned in Austen’s letters as a source of disease for her family and friends. The liver produces bile as part of the digestive process. She implies that she has a digestive disorder.

On Feb. 21, 1817, Austen wrote, “I am almost entirely cured of my rheumatism, just a little pain in my knee now & then, to make me remember what it was, & keep on flannel.” March 26, 1817, she wrote, “I have still a tendency to Rheumatism.” So at this point she attributed her pain and weakness to rheumatism in her joints.

Contemporary Treatments

In Austen’s time, doctors considered that the “humours” in the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile, had to be in balance. In Dr. Buchan’s popular Domestic Medicine (11th ed., 1790), he writes, “Jaundice, indigestion, loss of appetite, and a wasting of the whole body” are “the consequences of a vitiated state of the liver, or obstructions of the bile” (56). 

For an intermittent fever, Dr. Buchan recommends ipecac, which will cause the patient to vomit up bile and clean out the system (150). For stomach issues caused by bile, he recommends bleeding, liquids and light foods (such as Mr. Woodhouse’s gruel), and warm baths (290-291).

For jaundice (probably what we would call hepatitis, which turns the patient’s skin and eyes yellow, from excess bile), Buchan says “numberless British herbs” supposedly cure it, but he observes that generally the disease goes away by itself, so the herbs don’t necessarily cause the cure. He goes on to recommend hempseed and several other herbs that he thinks work. He also describes other diseases as connected with bile.

John Wesley, the Methodist preacher, wrote a very popular book called Primitive Physic: Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. It went through many editions and is still available today (I bought mine at the Wesley Museum in London). His goal was to list “cheap, safe, and easy medicines” available to “plain, unlettered” people. He marked those he had tried himself. Wesley started with lifestyle recommendations, such as, eat and drink moderately, and exercise regularly. Then he gave remedies for many diseases.

For “bilious cholic” (upset stomach ejecting bile), he recommends drinking warm lemonade or taking “sweet oil.” He gives nine remedies for rheumatism, including cold baths, warm steams, and eating barley-gruel with currants, roasted apples, fresh whey, and light pudding.

We don’t know what remedies Austen might have tried for her “bile” or rheumatism.

Mr. Curtis, her apothecary in Alton, and Mr. Lyford, her doctor in Winchester, tried to cure her, but we don’t know what diagnoses they made. For some possibilities, as well as more modern ideas, see “Did Jane Austen die from Nervous Consumption on July 18, 1817?” 

Modern Theories

Many modern scholars and doctors have speculated on what might have caused Jane’s death. Here are a few of their ideas:

Addison’s disease (tuberculosis of the adrenal glands)

This theory was put forward by Sir Zachary Cope in 1964. Austen’s langour, fatigue, skin discoloration, and stomach irritability fit with Addison’s. However, her niece described her as pale, while Addison’s generally gives a tanned appearance, according to Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A Life. The National Organization for Rare Disorders says, though, that Addison’s can cause white patches and darker patches, including black freckles on the face, so that might fit. However, her clear mind and lack of pain towards the end do not fit with Addison’s, apparently.

Lymphoma, such as Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of cancer

A study in June 2005 gives Hodgkin’s Disease as a more likely diagnosis. This causes an immune deficiency. The article considers Austen’s medical history of recurrent infections, including possible conjunctivitis which gave her eye problems, typhus when she was a child, and the whooping cough she contracted as an adult. She may have had an immune deficiency and lymphoma for years. Jane Austen’s birth, a month late, could have made her more susceptible to an immune deficiency. Trigeminal neuralgia, causing her face pain exacerbated by cold, could also be associated with a lymphoma.

Tuberculosis, or consumption

Another writer, K.G. White,  suggested in 2009 that tuberculosis, or consumption, was much more widespread in Austen’s day than Addison’s, and is another possible cause of her death. It may have been a secondary infection on top of a lymphoma

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood nearly dies of an illness brought on by indulging her misery and “sitting in her wet shoes and stockings.”

 

Lupus (an autoimmune disease)

An even more recent theory claims that all Austen’s symptoms were consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus. Joint pain, skin discoloration, fever, fatigue, and fluctuating symptoms that come and go are all consistent with lupus. See “Black and White and Every Wrong Colour.” 

 

Accidental Arsenic Poisoning

The British Library suggests that Austen may have died of accidental arsenic poisoning, from arsenic in medications or the water supply. They tested three pairs of spectacles from Austen’s writing desk, which are believed to be hers. Based on the prescription strengths, the researchers speculate that she may have gotten cataracts due to arsenic poisoning. Arsenic could also have caused her facial discoloration. See Dr. Sandra Tuppen’s article  and “Jane Austen Poisoned.”

 

Breast Cancer

Another possibility is breast cancer, which Carol Shields suggests in Jane Austen: A Life (NY: Penguin, 2001), 173-174. Austen’s Aunt Philadelphia (her father’s sister) apparently died from breast cancer, and estrogen fluctuations might have caused Austen’s fevers. 

 

Typhus

Another theory is that she died of a recurrence of the typhus which almost killed her as a child, while she was in Southampton. See Linda Robinson Walker, “Jane Austen’s Death: The Long Reach of Typhus?

 

Overdose?

Helena Kelly, in Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, thinks that whatever Austen was sick with, “a dose of opiates strong enough to knock her out completely for nine hours has to have at least hastened her death” (282). The laudanum Dr. Lyford gave her may have been too high a dose, which caused her to eventually stop breathing.

 

In the end, we don’t really know what took Jane Austen away—to heaven, as her sister Cassandra strongly believed. We know she left this world before she could finish all the works we wish she might have done. But we’re thankful for those works she did complete and the legacy she left to us all.

What’s your favorite theory about what happened to our beloved Jane? Can you add any information about the possible diagnoses above?

Jane’s obituary in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal says, “Her manners were gentle, her affections ardent, her candour was not to be surpassed, and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.” (Candour at this time meant that she thought the best of people, as Jane Bennet did.) (Quoted in Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life.)

For spiritual and religious aspects of death in Austen’s novels and in her experience, see my article in Persuasions On-Line, “Preparation for Death and Second Chances in Austen’s Novels.” 

 

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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Taking a vacation—whether it’s a staycation or a trip—is all about taking a break from your everyday activities to rest, relax, and get refreshed. As things continue to reopen, it’s fun to think about ways to make the summer season special. And of course, Jane always provides me with special inspiration!

Here are a few activities you might like to try this summer, whether you prefer to keep closer to home or you are ready to set out and have an adventure. These “Jane-cation” ideas are designed to fill your cup and put a pep in your step! Most of these activities can be done virtually, with your family, or in small groups.

#1 – Take a Book Lovers Day Off

  • Clear your calendar—just like a regular vacation day
  • Plan your meals ahead of time
  • Select your books
  • Read books you want to read (not something you have to read)
  • Set up a cozy spot indoors (or create an outdoor reading nook)

Read Like Jane: Read the books Jane Austen read in her lifetime. You can select some of your titles from this list from Jane Austen in Vermont: Jane Austen’s Reading List.

Jane Austen on Reading:

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

―Mr. Tilney, Northanger Abbey

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.

―Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

If a book is well written, I always find it too short.

―Kitty Percival, “Catharine, or the Bower”
Anne Hathaway, Becoming Jane

#2 – Host a Small Garden Party

  • Plan summer fare that’s light and fresh
  • Invite guests to bring a favorite tea cup
  • Provide a selection of teas, lemonades, and sparkling waters
  • Don’t forget a pretty dessert such as Strawberry Shortcake Trifles
  • Decorate with fresh flowers, tea cups, and stacks of books tied with ribbon

Party like Jane: Ask your guests to bring fresh flowers and create your own bouquets or nosegays. You can read this JAW article about Regency bridal bouquets for inspiration. Learn how to make Georgian ices here!

Jane Austen on Parties:

Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, etc., and looked very pretty. 

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 25 April, 1811.

You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 15 June, 1808.

The Orange Wine will want our Care soon. –But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 1 July, 1808.

Strawberry Shortcake Trifles from CookingClassy.com

#3 – Plan a Picnic or Fruit-picking Excursion

  • Meet up with family or friends for a picnic
  • Explore a new park or picnic area
  • Bring a pretty basket, delicious food, drinks, and a blanket
  • Play games or provide riddles for guests
  • Try a new recipe

Picnic like Jane:
Take cushions, flowers, and other items to make it comfortable and picturesque. You can read this JAW article on Box Hill and Regency picnics. Or plan a Regency picnic menu courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre.

Jane Austen on Excursions:

We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees;—and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors—a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible.

―Mrs. Elton, Emma

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.

―Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions will make good amends for orange wine.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 20 June, 1808.

Emma, 2009

#4 – Take a Home & Garden Tour:

  • Explore a local public garden
  • Tour a historic home
  • Volunteer in a community garden
  • Revamp a corner of your own garden or patio
  • Take a gardening class

Garden like Jane: Try planting flowers like Jane might have had in her garden. Read this JAW article on Jane Austen’s garden when she was living at Chawton Cottage. Or enjoy this Pictorial Visit to Chawton by Tony Grant.

Jane Austen on Homes & Gardens:

Pemberley House . . . was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted.

―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Some of the flower seeds are coming up very well, but your mignonette makes a wretched appearance. …Our young piony [sic] at the foot of the fir-tree has just blown and looks very handsome, and the whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom. The syringas, too, are coming out. We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plums, but not many greengages—on the standard scarcely any, three or four dozen, perhaps, against the wall.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 29 May, 1811.

Two . . . hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled “The Wood Walk.” The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of “The Church Walk,” because it led to the parish church.

―James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (Description of Steventon)
Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

#5 – Take a trip to the seaside or mountains:

  • Go to the seaside
  • Drive to the mountains
  • Take a day trip
  • Rent a house or cabin
  • Camp out

Travel like Jane: Looking for something literary? Explore one of these Literary-themed Day Trips. Or check out some of the Best Literary Places to Read and Eat around the world. Want to stay closer to home? Visit your local independent bookstore, buy a book, and show your support.

Jane Austen on Travels:

A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.

―Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

What delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend!

―Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

The Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.

―Jane Austen, Persuasion

We had a little water-party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley to-day; the tide is just right for our going immediately after moonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 24 October, 1808.
Lyme Regis and The Cobb (Rachel Dodge, 2007)

Wishing you all a summer filled with bookish plans, dear Jane Austen’s World readers! If you could choose any “Jane-cation” (if travel/health restrictions did not exist), where would you go?

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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Inquiring readers, I recently wrote a post about the important but largely unseen parts servants played in Jane Austen’s novels. As I looked into the topic, animals were also mentioned. So much information exists that I decided to write about their important contributions to our understanding of Austen’s milieu.

________

In The Jane Austen Companion, the editor of the book, David Grey, wrote that Jane Austen “pays little attention to pets and animals”. Professor Susan E. Jones, who quoted Mr. Grey at the start of her JASNA article, begs to disagree. She ends her thoughts by writing:

“Austen uses her animal references to provide provocative signals and insights that would have amplified the pleasure of her text to insider readers.”

As an avid reader of Austen’s novels and letters, wherein a great deal of animals are mentioned, I agree with Professor Jones’s POV. Jane’s inclusion of animals and food might not have been given center stage, but her contemporary readers knew just what they represented when they made their appearance in her stories. The animals added dimension to her human characters and to her readers’ understanding of the scene: Their presence meant more than mere beasts of burden or as a source for food.

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Detail of the fronticepiece image for The Frugal Housewife, 1835, Internet Archive.

One passage in Emma demonstrates why only a few references to food conjured up a host of associations for Austen’s contemporary readers, and why current scholarship helps us to understand her era better. Emma suggested a menu for an early dinner for Mrs and Miss Bates and Mrs Goddard, a trio that was “always at the service of an invitation at Hartfield” (Austen, Emma).

“…with the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas, did she then do all the honours of the meal, and help and recommend the minced chicken and scalloped oysters, with an urgency which she knew would be acceptable to the early hours and civil scruples of their guests.” – Emma, Vol 1, Ch 3.

This passage provides much information about Mr. Woodhouse’s food phobias and the dishes he deemed too rich for “the digestion.” But there is more to this scene than first meets the eye.

Mrs Bates, who was “almost past everything but tea and quadrille”, and her daughter, Miss Bates, were poor due to Mr Bates’s death. Mr Elton, who replaced him as Vicar of Highbury, acquired his living. Mr Bates’s widow and daughter were instantly poor and reduced to renting rooms in town, with only a maid of all work to help them. Except for a small income, they were dependent on the beneficence of their community. They, and Mrs Goddard, the mistress of the local boarding school, were frequent visitors at Hartfield, and were invited early to play cards with Mr Woodhouse, and keep him company and partake of his food and hospitality.

Emma, who had been Hartfield’s mistress since her older sister’s marriage to Robert Knightley, and who hoped she was “not often deficient in what is due to guests at Hartfield,” arranged for this particular meal, hoping to please both her company and her exacting father. From her planned menu, Austen’s contemporaries instantly recognized the three visitors’ social and economic status. Guests belonging to the first tier of society would have been served a fresh, whole capon. Minced chicken was made with leftover chicken, and while the dish was considered delicious, Austen’s readers understood that these second tier guests had been served the remains of yesterday’s chicken (Jones).

Emma also served oysters, which are considered a specialty today. In my region, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, U.S., oysters are expensive delicacies, since their numbers have been drastically reduced by fertilizer run-offs and other pollution in the bay, but in Austen’s day, oysters were cheap and plentiful in England and served as “common fare at an inn” (Jones). They, like chicken, are a white food, whose bland color, Emma knew, suited Mr Woodhouse to a tee.

Animals in the countryside:

Pork was considered a symbol of affluence. Jane’s rich brother, Edward, kept pigs:

“In a letter to Cassandra from Steventon (1 December 1798), Jane wrote, ‘My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told…that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, [and] has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises’” (Wilkes).

In her blog post, author Sue Wilkes aptly titled an image of a fortunate pig as

“an elegant pig in an elegant pigsty.”

Emma’s gift to Mrs and Miss Bates of a whole hindquarter of a pig was generous – but to a fault. Mr Woodhouse first suggested a small, more delicate loin or leg, which Susan Jones points out was thoughtful, since the Bates’s rented accommodations were small. While Miss Bates effusively thanked Emma, she added that her mother feared they “had not a salting-pan large enough.” In the film Clueless, director Amy Heckerling had it right – Emma was oblivious in so many ways.

Growing up in the Steventon countryside, the Austens were surrounded by fields of crops, stands of woodlands, and grazing animals. “Mr Austen was entitled to graze his sheep and cows in the actual churchyard of St Nicholas if he so chose” (Le Faye, p 170). Jane mentioned in her letters the excellent quality of the Leicester sheep he had sold for profit.

“Mr Lyford gratified us very much yesterday by his praises of my father’s mutton, which they all think the finest that was ever ate.” – Le Faye, p 172

Mr Austen likely raised Southdown Sheep, a small, stocky animal, whose lambs, born in October, were ready for slaughter by Christmas. LeFaye speculated that the sheep Mr Knightley and Robert Martin (E) kept on their farms on the Donwell Abbey estate were also Southdown sheep, for they had exceptional wool and Mr Martin’s wool crop fetched a high price. Admiral and Mrs Croft (P) inspected their sheep as soon as they were settled at Kellynch Hall, an action that Sir Walter Elliot considered vastly beneath his lofty sense of self (LeFaye, 174).

Southdown Sheep-Wikimedia Commons

Southdown Sheep, Wikimedia Commons image

Working animals:

Animals in the countryside in which Austen lived sounded out familiar noises – the crowing of roosters, clucking of chickens, honking of geese, mooing of cows, neighing of horses, squealing of pigs, meowing of cats, and barking of dogs. Austen must also have intimately known their smells, their antics when they were young, and their drama from birth to death. They were part of her childhood in Steventon and formed the background for the rural locations in her novels, albeit more as indicators of a character’s status and wealth than as characters in their own right. Their literary presence marked their service of their owners who fed them.

Jane mentioned cats once in a minor quote from Mrs Jennings in Sense and Sensibility: “Lord! we shall sit and gape at one another as dull as two cats,” so I shall quickly move on to their jobs as hunters of mice and rats in barns and houses, and of moles and voles in gardens. They “earned” their living, although I am certain no child could resist the continuous litter of kittens produced by these feral creatures.

Purebred dogs specifically bred for desired features and purposes belonged largely to aristocrats and the gentry. Farmers and peasants owned more common curs. With their sensitive noses, ability to run alongside their masters for hours, loyalty, and willingness to serve and please, dogs were essential in too many jobs to count. As herders they were essential helpmeets for shepherds and drovers. As fearless terriers, they could dig any animal out of a hole, their tails providing a handy means for pulling them out of predicaments. Dogs protected livestock, barked warnings at intruders, defended their masters, pulled down large animals, acted as nanny dogs for children, etc. One suspects that many individuals who worked with dogs learned to love them more as companions than as workers, such as Willoughby, who “bred hounds for pleasure” (Shearer).

A black and white print of a hunter going out with two pointers, 1820 image.

James Barenger , 1820, Pointers. Wikimedia Commons image.

Aside from providing mankind with eggs, meat, and feathers, geese also trumpeted danger to chickens and anything and anyone within hearing distance. Austen’s mention of a goose in Emma, demonstrates the quality of Mr Martin’s excellent farm products:

“…Robert Martin raises geese because the Martin matriarch gives a fine goose to Mrs Goddard, who says it is “the finest goose[she has] ever seen” (Jones).

Animals for food:

Alderney cows played a major role for the Martin family in Emma:

“…and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow).”

Interestingly, Jane’s mother also kept Alderney cows. Mrs Austen wrote in a letter to a sister-in-law in 1773:

“I have got a nice dairy fitted up, and am now worth a bull and six cows”

Maggie Lane tells us that in 1770, Mrs. Austen had described “an Alderney cow which ‘makes more butter than we use,” which meant that any excess from their animals earned much needed income for the Austens and their large family.

In a letter to Cassandra, Jane Austen exclaimed over the value of the family cows in the sale of the family possessions [when moving from Steventon to Bath], “sixty one Guineas & a half for the three Cows…” (Jones)

The butter of Alderney cows, a small rugged Channel Island breed, was considered superb, but, sadly, these cows became extinct in WWII. There were other varieties of cows during this era that produced milk, meat, and leather, but the Alderneys were prevalent in Austen letters and in Emma.

Above,_an_Aldernay_cow;_below,_a_Westhighland_bull._Coloured_Wellcome_V0020750

Alderney cow, top image, West Highland bull, lower image. Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons via Wellcome library.

Other farm animals (still common) provided essential food and products for the Austen family, like chickens (meat, eggs, feathers), sheep (meat, wool), and goats (meat, milk.) My descriptions echo the dispassionate attitude that the Georgian era populace had until the turn of the 19th century, when attitudes changed.

Animals for transport:

Many animals, commonly known as beasts of burden,” served as “engines” for transport. In too numerous instances to count, their lives were severely shortened from hard work and harsh treatment. Horses were primarily owned by the elite because their upkeep was expensive. When Austen mentioned a carriage drawn by four horses (luxurious), or a curricle pulled by two (costly), her reading audience knew to the penny how much their maintenance cost per year. John Thorpe (NA) drove a gig pulled by one horse, which he pretended was as fine and fast as Mr Tilney’s carriage pulled by two. At the mere mention of the carriages Jane’s readers instantly knew which of the two young men had more financial resources and the faster vehicle. The way Thorpe forced his sole horse to compete with Tilney’s team of two demonstrated his ambition and cruelty. (See the Brock image on the left of John Thorpe, “Pray, pray, Stop Mr. Thorpe,” Wikimedia Commons) vs. (Henry Tilney in his carriage with Catherine on the right, “Henry Drove So Well,” Ch XX, Molland’s.)

In Sense and Sensibility, Austen demonstrated Marianne Dashwood’s recklessness with Willoughby’s gift of a horse (Queen Mab), and complete disregard of her family’s financial situation. She could only think of Willoughby’s loving present, which it wasn’t. Willoughby must have known of the family’s circumstances, and so his gesture was cruel.

“Marianne told her [Elinor], with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman. Without considering that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them, she had accepted the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.

“He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it,” she added, “and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the delight of a gallop on some of these downs.”

“Most unwilling was she to awaken from such a dream of felicity to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and for some time she refused to submit to them. As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for HIM; he might always get one at the park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. Elinor then ventured to doubt the propriety of her receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so lately known to her. This was too much.”

Because of this expensive gift, Elinor assumed that the pair had entered into a secret engagement.

In another example of Austen’s use of an animal to demonstrate character, she shows Edmund’s interest in Mary Crawford by allowing her to ride Fanny Price’s gentle pony. He had first obtained it for his cousin for her health, which blossomed with a daily ride. Then Mary Crawford expressed her desire to learn to ride, and Edmund, losing his head, gave her free rein to use Fanny’s pony.

“The ensuing spring deprived [Fanny] of her valued friend, the old grey pony; and for some time she was in danger of feeling the loss in her health as well as in her affections; for in spite of the acknowledged importance of her riding on horse-back, no measures were taken for mounting her again…”

Ignored by her most supportive cousin, Fanny’s aunts took advantage of the circumstances and employed her to run errands for both of them, which tired her excessively. Edmund soon noticed that Fanny looked ill and realized that his insensitivity to her situation and that his interest in Mary had contributed to his cousin’s ill health. He swiftly returned the pony for her daily rides. Without much exposition, Austen introduced this subplot with a pony at its center to point out her characters’ motivations, their actions and the consequences.

Other modes of transportation:

Not many people could afford to purchase or maintain horses. Drays and heavy wagons drawn by teams of mules and oxen pulled heavy loads over rutted roads or provided transportation for groups of people with fewer means. Donkey and pony carts could carry two adults, and goat carts could carry one woman or two children. Dogs pulled carts for small children or pulled specialized vehicles alongside their working masters.

We know that the Austen women used a donkey cart to get around. Today it can still be seen in Chawton Cottage, now a museum.

donkey cart-JA House Chawton-PhoebeZu

The donkey cart, Jane Austen House Museum (Chawton Cottage), taken by Phoebe Zu.

Animals as pets:

This last category is short, for in the early 19th century animals were largely used for work. The aristocracy and gentry, however, were another matter, as my pinterest board, “Regency Pets and Animals,” attests. The paintings depict dogs, horses, cats, and birds, etc. held by their owners. Many of the horses and dogs were signs of wealth and consequence.

Pinterest board of Georgian pets

Rabbit, pugs, cats, dogs, bird cage, and a man with his thoroughbred. Vic’s Pinterest Board. A majority of the paintings and illustrations depict adults and children from the upper classes.

The pug in Mansfield Park is the only pet fully described in a Jane Austen novel. It too was used to show character, as well as sloth and indolence.

Detail of pug-Molland's

Detail of a Brock image of Lady Bertram, pug, and Fanny as an infant. Molland’s.

“To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister.”

Pugs, first bred in China and brought to The Netherlands by the Dutch East India Company, became a favorite animal of William of Orange and his wife Mary, who introduced the small dog to England in the 17th century, where its popularity took off.

When Henry Crawford took notable interest in Fanny, Lady Bertram became quite talkative:

“No, my dear, I should not think of missing you, when such an offer as this comes in your way. I could do very well without you, if you were married to a man of such good estate as Mr. Crawford. And you must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this.”

This was almost the only rule of conduct, the only piece of advice, which Fanny had ever received from her aunt in the course of eight years and a half. It silenced her. She felt how unprofitable contention would be…”

Lady Bertram was convinced that Henry Crawford fell in love with her at the ball, where she looked remarkably well (even Sir Thomas said so).

And you know you had Chapman to help you to dress. I am very glad I sent Chapman to you. I shall tell Sir Thomas that I am sure it was done that evening.” And still pursuing the same cheerful thoughts, she soon afterwards added, “And I will tell you what, Fanny, which is more than I did for Maria: the next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy.”

This speech must have exhausted Lady Bertram, for it was the first time she showed such deep emotion and enthusiasm on any topic, or affection towards another person. That she was willing to give Fanny one of Pug’s precious puppies spoke volumes.

Conclusion:

Most of Austen’s contemporary readers experienced first-hand the life and death roles that animals played in their lives. When reading her novels, they could use this knowledge to fill in the blanks that Austen, an author not known for detailed descriptions, assumed they knew. Today’s readers do not have this luxury. For example, take this statement from Sue Wilkes, which describes the different ways in which rich and poor treated each other regarding property and food:

“Rich landowners … had hothouses for growing tender fruits like grapes, nectarines and peaches. In season, they also enjoyed game from their estates. The Knight family sent game to the Austens from Godmersham. The killing of game by using dogs or a gun was restricted by law to members of the landed gentry, providing they owned estates worth at least £100 p.a., or leased land worth at least £150 p.a. Although the countryside was plentifully stocked with fish and game, a poor man who helped himself to a hare or salmon to feed his family faced jail or transportation.”

Details like these enrich our knowledge of the era and our understanding of novels written at that time. Austen’s ways of incorporating the roles that animals represented in her stories without burdening us with too many details was simply genius.

Additional resources:

Books

Grey, J.D. (1986) The Jane Austen Companion (with A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works by H. Abigail Bok (U.S.). Macmillan Publishing Company.

LeFaye, D. (2014) Jane Austen’s Country Life (1st ed., U.K.) Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Online information

Jones, S.E. (2016) “Oysters and Alderneys: Emma and the Animal Economy,” (Vol 37, No. 1) Persuasions Online, JASNA. URL downloaded 7/2/21: http://jasna.org/publications-2/persuasions-online/vol37no1/jones/

Knowles, R. (2019) “Curricles, gigs and phaetons in the Regency,” Regency History. URL downloaded 7/2/21: https://www.regencyhistory.net/2019/07/curricles-gigs-and-phaetons-in-regency.html

Sanborn, V. (2010) “Pugalicious: The Pug in Mansfield Park and the 19th Century,” Jane Austen’s World. URL downloaded 7/1/21: https://janeaustensworld.com/2010/02/16/pugnacious-the-pug-in-mansfield-park-and-the-19th-century/

Shearer, E. (2017) “Animals in Jane Austen’s novels,” Eliza Shearer. URL downloaded 6/30/21: https://elizashearerblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/animals-in-jane-austen/

Sullivan, M.C. (2000) “The Curricle,” Tilneys and Trapdoors. URL downloaded 7/1/21: http://www.tilneysandtrapdoors.com/cult/curricle.html

Wilkes, S. (2015) “Down on the Farm,” A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England. URL downloaded 7/2/21: https://visitjaneaustensengland.blogspot.com/2015/07/down-on-farm.html

Detail of image, fronticepiece, Mrs. Child, (1835) The Frugal Housewife (15th Ed. U.K.)

 

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