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By Brenda S. Cox

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” –Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, Sept. 8, 1816

Last month we talked about Austen’s first cousins, particularly Edward Cooper, son of Jane’s mother’s sister. He became a clergyman like Jane’s father and Edward’s father. Edward was a strong Evangelical, and he and Jane did not always see eye to eye.

Evangelicals in the Church of England

The Evangelical* movement in the Church of England started early in the 1700s. While some evangelicals left the Church of England, others stayed within it. (We use a capital “E” for this movement within the Church of England at that time.) In general, evangelicals stress the centrality of the Bible and of Christ’s death on the cross to redeem sinful people, the need for a personal conversion experience, and Christians’ responsibility to actively lead others toward Christ and do good in the world. These are the messages Edward Cooper and other Evangelicals preached. 

The most famous Evangelical of Austen’s time was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce and other Christians, especially Evangelicals, led the fight against the slave trade, supported campaigns to educate the poor in England, and much more. (While modern evangelicals may be associated with certain political stances, evangelicals in Austen’s England were associated with these issues instead: education for the poor, the campaign against the slave trade and slavery, and others.)

Cooper’s Sermons and Jane Austen’s Responses

In Jane Austen’s time, many clergymen published their sermons. Sermons were popular reading, as well as providing preaching material for other clergymen. Austen enjoyed reading books of sermons. Cooper published a number of volumes of his sermons. Apparently, though, Jane and Cassandra didn’t like them much. In 1809 (Jan. 17), she commented,

“Miss M. conveys to us a third volume of sermons, from Hamstall, just published, and which we are to like better than the two others; they are professedly practical, and for the use of country congregations.”

This was Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons Designed for Parochial and Domestic Instruction(meaning for reading at home and for preaching to churches), first published in 1809. The earlier volumes were one in 1803 criticizing the practice of the militia drilling on Sundays (a day of rest), and then Sermons, Chiefly Designed to Elucidate Some of the Leading Doctrines of the Gospel (1804).

Where did Jane differ from those “leading doctrines” of Evangelical preaching? Evangelicals taught that people needed a conscious, personal conversion experience, a regeneration or rebirth, to become true Christians. Other Anglicans believed that growth in faith was gradual through life, beginning with a person’s baptism as an infant; this was probably Austen’s belief.  Both groups believed that throughout life the person needed to trust in Christ, repent when they sinned, and ask God’s help to live a good life. Edward Cooper’s hymn, “Father of Heaven,” which is still sung today, asks God for His “pardoning love.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons, which Jane Austen was to “like better than the two others.”

This theological disagreement partly explains Jane’s reaction to a later book which includes two of Edward’s sermons. It’s been speculated that the “we” here might refer to the rest of her family, perhaps to her mother and brother’s opinion more than to her own. But still she does include herself:

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” (Sept. 8, 1816).

This refers to Two Sermons Preached . . . at Wolverhampton Preparatory to the Establishment of a Bible Institution (1816). I was surprised to find that these sermons do not use the word regeneration, and conversion is used only once (with convert used two further times). However, the concepts are implied.

Cooper does talk about the world’s need for the gospel and for the Bible. Jane Austen apparently did not disagree with these goals. In her third prayer, she wrote,

“May thy [God’s] mercy be extended over all Mankind, bringing the Ignorant to the knowledge of thy Truth, awakening the Impenitent, touching the Hardened.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s sermons for the Bible Society, which Austen found too full of “regeneration and conversion.”

The SPCK and the Bible Society

So, why would Austen object to Cooper’s supporting the Bible Society? She and her family supported a different institution that distributed the Bible, the SPCK. In fact, Jane herself contributed half a guinea, a substantial amount of her income, to this organization in 1813.

The SPCK, or Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, is a Church of England organization that published and sold Christian literature at that time. However, many felt that they were not supplying enough Bibles in different languages (specifically Welsh, at the beginning), and so the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed.

The Bible Society included both Anglicans and Dissenters (people in other denominations). Because of this, they published and distributed only Bibles, with no commentary (which might support one set of doctrines over another). The SPCK produced the Book of Common Prayer and other materials explaining the Bible from an Anglican perspective. There was some tension or competition between these two groups.

Both societies formed auxiliary groups in various areas to support their work. According to Irene Collins, in 1813, both organizations set up branches in Basingstoke, in the Austens’ part of the country. James Austen, Jane’s brother, organized and spoke at the initial meeting of the SPCK. The Lefroy family, old friends of the Austens’, were leaders of the rival Bible Society auxiliary started at almost the same time.

A copy of James’s speech for the SPCK has been preserved. He said that the SPCK was better than the Bible Society, because along with the Bible it distributed commentaries and the Book of Common Prayer (the “Liturgy”). He explained,

“It [the SPCK] not only puts the Bible in a poor man’s hand, but provides him with the best means of understanding it.”

However, he also said that those supporting the Bible Society did so from “the purest and best of motives,” and encouraged them to support both organizations. He complimented the Bible Society, saying its “exertions” had produced “extreme good.” He called for a spirit of unity in the area and a spirit of “candour”—which meant assuming the best of one another. The speech is gentle and conciliatory; a good model for today’s controversies.

Jane Austen and the Evangelicals

So, Jane Austen had some disagreements with her Evangelical cousin Edward Cooper, and didn’t much like his sermons. However, Cooper had an Evangelical friend in neighbouring Yoxall, Rev. Thomas Gisborne. Both Cooper and Gisborne were involved with Wilberforce in working for the abolition of the slave trade. 

Austen did enjoy Gisborne’s work. In 1805, she told Cassandra,

“I am glad you recommended ‘Gisborne,’ for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it” (Aug. 30, 1805).

The book was probably An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex

In Austen’s letters, she made two specific mentions of the Evangelicals. On Jan. 24, 1809, she wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” She was telling her sister that she did not want to read a new book by Hannah More, a popular Evangelical author. She went on to say, “Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people,” so she doesn’t seem to be very serious. My guess is that she did not like More’s style, which is didactic, clearly teaching lessons through her story. Austen preferred to tell a good story and let readers come to their own conclusions.

Later, on Nov. 18, 1814, she had a serious discussion with her niece Fanny Knight about marrying a man who was leaning toward Evangelicalism. She wrote, “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” So at that point, though she was not Evangelical herself, she admired them.

Austen’s beloved brother Henry later became an Evangelical preacher himself. But he still wrote about his sister, in the introduction to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion:

“She was thoroughly religious and devout . . . On serious [religious] subjects she was well-instructed, both by reading and meditation, and her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.”

While some have claimed that he was exaggerating here, at the time being “religious” was not necessarily popular. Jane Austen did not always agree with her cousin Edward’s theology or style of writing, but it seems to me that she was serious about her faith, as he was.

 

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written a book called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England, which she hopes will be available by the end of this year.

*Note that “Evangelical” and “evangelism” are two different things, though people sometimes get them confused. Evangelicals, the focus of the article above, were and are groups of Christians with certain common beliefs. Evangelism  means people sharing their religious beliefs with other people.

For Further Reading

Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 1

Edward Cooper, Wolverhampton Sermons, Jan. 1, 1816.

Jocelyn Harris, “Jane Austen and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,” Persuasions 34: 134-139. 

Irene Collins, “’Too Much Zeal for the Bible Society: Jane Austen, Her Family, and the Religious Quarrels of Her Time,” Jane Austen Society Reports, Collected Reports Vol. 6 (2001-2005): 21-38. This article explains the rivalry and cooperation between the Bible Society and the S.P.C.K. in Austen’s community, and Jane’s theological differences with her cousin Edward Cooper. 

Gaye King, “Jane Austen’s Staffordshire Cousin: Edward Cooper and His Circle,” Persuasions 1993 

Gaye King, “Visiting Edward Cooper,” Persuasions 1987 

Donald Greene, “Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” Persuasions 1985 (Includes a photo of the rectory where Jane and her family visited Edward and his family)

Come and Visit Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin,” Jane Austen House Museum blog, Sept. 17, 2012, Edward’s portrait 

Edward Cooper as a hymn writer 

Edward Cooper’s letter to Jane April 6, 1817 (article also includes commentary on the letter)

Jane Austen in the Midlands,” scroll down for a section on Cooper. 

’Cruel Comfort’: A Reading of the Theological Critique in Sense and Sensibility,” Kathleen James-Cavan (springboards from Jane’s comment on Edward Cooper into the ideas in S&S) Persuasions On-Line 32.2 (2012) 

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed. (p. 262 says Henry Austen became an Evangelical clergyman)

Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed.

Laura Dabundo, Jane Austen: A Companion

Irene Collins, “Displeasing Pictures of Clergymen,” Persuasions 18 (1996): 110.

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

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Inquiring readers, I caution those who unconditionally love Sanditon, the TV edition, that this belated review is guided by my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. My fingers had no choice but to obey its command, for my brain is still processing what I saw. I must admit to liking this season more than the previous one, for it has lost almost all pretensions of adhering to Austen’s last work.

________

Well, here we go again, just when I thought Sanditon had been laid to rest with Sydney Parker leaving poor Charlotte to marry his rich bride in order to save brother Tom, the series rears its confused head once more. Thanks (or no thanks) to the pleading of millions of devoted fans, the streaming services of Britbox and PBS ordered up two more seasons. Andrew Davies’ S 1 deviated so much from Jane Austen’s unfinished novel in both plot and character that I rolled on the floor with laughter, or wept copiously from the changes the writers made, most notably with Sir Edward Denham’s egregious transformation from an insufferable but clueless literature spouting buffoon (with social aspirations) to a ruthless villain.

This year, the writers left any semblance of Jane’s intentions behind (well, they had no choice) and embarked on a plot more in Georgette Heyer’s style, with a nod to Austen here and there. Don’t get me wrong. I love Heyer’s novels and have read them all. She is historically accurate and, unlike Jane, detailed in her descriptions of countenances and expressions, architecture, fashions, carriages, and landscapes. Heyer’s heroes, heroines, villains, and villaineses are a delight to visit for a few hours of entertainment, but I don’t reread her novels over and over. (As a friend once remarked, her books are great to read when on vacation or in need of some light entertainment.) Most of Heyer’s characters follow stereotypes and one can almost tell from the start how their trajectories will lead to their logical end.

Jane Austen, on the other hand, has given me something new and fresh to ponder throughout the stages of my life. These days I reread her novels with a renewed understanding, and former cherished passages and novels have made a place for new favorites.

This season, a few cast members — Sydney Parker, Lord Babington, and Young Stringer — have left Sanditon for other favorable acting shores. New characters, notably Alison Heywood as Charlotte’s younger sister; a group of 100 red-coated militia led by Colonel Francis Lennox; and a reclusive widower, Mr Alexander Colbourne, who is distant from his young daughter, Leonora (Leo), and orphaned niece, Augusta Markham, spiff up the plot.

It’s been some years since Sanditon graced our screens. Season 1 left loyal viewers robbed of a happily-ever-after ending for Charlotte. When that season’s last episode ended, I yelled, ‘What the Fudge!’ and threw popcorn at my screen. Unhappy viewers, in a tizzy of persuasive letter writing, aided Davies in his campaign to extend Sanditon’s seasons from 1 to 3. (Britbox and PBS are paying the moolah up front.)

This season, Tom Parker’s vision of a successful seaside resort has come to life. Ugly scaffolds, unsightly structures, and the sound of incessant hammering have given way to pastel colored houses and a variety of shops that line a wide seaside promenade, whose center boasts a picturesque pavilion or band stand. Below are two images I took of my TV screen. Please hover your cursor over them for a description.

Sanditon’s journey from a working fisherman’s village has been transformed into a respectable Georgian seaside resort. (Such improvements in cities, towns, and villages all over England were common between the 1790s and 1830s. Roads were widened and straightened to accommodate carriages; and in many cases markets were moved from urban centers to outlying areas, so that new citizens living in the “smart” part of town were not subjected to the incessant sound of clopping hooves and bellowing animals, or the smell of their droppings as drovers marched them to their final destination.)

The camera lovingly pans to visitors parading past buildings and chatting in groups… but, I ask myself, why is no one entering those seaside shops or emerging from them? Are they mere facades to make us think such a town exists? The answer, had I known it existed before wasting my time speculating, lies in the video at the bottom of this review.

Episode One:

The first scene opens with a coffin lowered into the ground in a tropical location; the camera then pans to Charlotte having the time of her life dancing in a barn. She’s wearing a white muslin gown and laughs gaily. Her hair remains wild and unbound as a handsome young man looks on. ‘Oooooh’, I think, now there’s a feast for a maid’s eye and perhaps a new suitor. Drat. That was his first and last appearance. He’s mentioned briefly later by Charlotte’s sister, but not in a way that would get our hopes up, for he is a mere yeoman farmer admired by Char’s parents.

Mary Parker, dressed in black, appears suddenly to talk to Charlotte. Drums roll ominously in my mind as our poor Char learns that Sydney is dead and buried in Antigua.

We next observe an excited Alison Heywood, Charlotte’s younger sister, sitting beside her in a carriage. Both wear their hair loose and wild under their bonnets. Tsk. Tsk. Even Mills and Boon authors know better than to make such a fashion faux pas. As was stated in Season 1, Sanditon screen writers merely wanted to show the Heywood girls as natural, unaffected beauties. But, hey, why not try for some historical accuracy?

Sanditon S2

MASTERPIECE “Sanditon” Season 2 – Premieres Sunday, March 20, 2022 at 9/8c on MASTERPIECE on PBS – promo Shown: Charlotte Heywood (ROSE WILLIAMS) For editorial use only. Photographer: James Pardon (C) Red Planet (Sanditon 2) Ltd

The contrast between the sisters is obvious in their personalities, as well as their hair color. At the prospect of visiting Sanditon, Alison’s eyes sparkle as eager as a puppy’s and she practically twitches with excitement. Charlotte’s demeanor is world-weary. The oldest child in the family, she’s had to grow up fast and, while she’s still a practical woman, her optimism has been severely tried. The sisters are visiting Tom and Mary Parker for the summer. Trafalgar House, the Parker’s abode, now stands amidst spruced up buildings sporting facades of soft white stone a la Bath and Brighton.

This visit is meant to lift Charlotte’s spirits, but, let’s face it, the reminders of falling in love with Sydney and then enduring the humiliation of his leaving will haunt her while she lives in that resort town. (I find Sidney’s voice overs a bit creepy when Charlotte recalls him. This is the actor’s only appearance and explains his inclusion in this episode’s credits.)

Meanwhile, Georgiana Lambe has turned into a feisty young thing. Her internal radar can spot a fortune hunter from 100 paces away, and her treatment of hopeful swains is uncommonly rude. Mary Parker, who escorts her (whenever Miss Beatrice Hankins, the rector’s sister, cannot), is worried that unless Georgiana tones down her rebuffs, she will burn too many manly bridges behind her. Miss Lambe feels that she has the upper hand, for she has a massive fortune and her swains do not. They’re the beggars; she’s the chooser. Besides, she’s aware that the power she now holds over them will disappear once she marries. My alarm antenna begins to buzz slightly. What do the writers have in store for her? But I’m distracted by the thought that her hair is covered by a bonnet. That’s at least one young lady who still follows proper sartorial conventions.

Georgiana’s story line includes Charles Lockhart, an artist who pursues her to paint her authentic portrait. He demonstrates his bohemian side early, strutting from the beach to the promenade with an open robe that leaves his puny chest bare in the presence of ladies. Not a good look or introduction, but a typical Davies hallmark.

The scene switches to a forest where a company of 100 men in red and white uniforms arrive on horseback or in wagons carting equipment. Colonel Lennox, a manly man with a stern visage, heads the unit astride his beautiful steed. Alongside the colonel we glimpse Edward Denham, the slime ball cast out by Lady Denham and disinherited from her fortune. Drums beat an ominous rhythm in my brain, and I wonder, “What the Dr Fuchs is he doing there!?”

The Parker brothers (not of the Monopoly game) are once again in the center of town at the center of the plot. Mary, Tom’s wife, plays a more prominent role this season as a chaperone and sounding board. Arthur is featured more positively – not so much as a bumbler, but as a supporter of Tom and Georgiana. His presence adds sweet comedic touches and always brightens a scene, but his optimism is both a curse and a blessing, as we shall see in future episodes. In one important discussion with his bro, Arthur promotes a Theatre Royal as the next major building to develop, but Tom, worried about finances, cannot afford to gamble (hah!) and hopes to convince the militia to build a permanent barracks near town. (Colonel Lennox fought at Waterloo in 1815. Austen wrote her novel fragment in 1817, when the militia still defended British shores, but in considerably diminished numbers.)

We soon see Lady Denham again and she has not changed a smidgen. She’s still a Lady-Catherine-de-Bourgh-lite character, looking down at one and all, and knowing more than anyone about everything. Her clothes are so similar to those she’s worn before that I wonder if the wardrobe department is ‘gasp’ recycling costumes. She’s Tom Parker’s primary investor in Sanditon, or so she believes. One can imagine her delight over the town’s booming business, but for how long?

A short scene shows her heaping 5-6-7, well, 3 teaspoons of sugar into a tiny cup of tea. Sugar addict, anyone? Why show this scene? Curious minds want to know.

Lady Esther Babington, who I shall henceforth name Lady Bab, seems as strangely sad as Charlotte. Why? She’s rich, she’s a bonafide lady (uhm…let’s just say that her way to that exalted position was a bit circuitous), but she lives in fine houses and wants for nothing. Plus she’s Lady D’s heiress. What worries could beset her to put her in such doldrums, other than that Lord Bab is nowhere to be found?

We find her sitting in church, as sad-faced as a hound dog, when Miss Hankins and her brother, the ever forgettable Reverend Hankins, encounter her. After a cryptic conversation, Lady Bab leaves. Miss Beatrice follows her and tells her she “recognizes her need,” and suggests that she visit Mrs Potter, a midwife who helps women who have ‘struggled.’ Uh, oh, methinks, here’s another plot development.

We discover Lady Bab’s problem soon enough when Dr Fuchs attends to her, after huffing and puffing up three sets of stairs. Lady Bab, had followed Beatrice’s advice and is wan from swallowing the midwife’s crazy concoctions. She can barely lift her head from her pillow and has summoned Dr Fuchs, despite Lady D’s protestations that the man is USELESS!

We learn that Lady Bab’s first pregnancy ended badly 5 1/2 months into gestation, and that her baby girl did not survive. She was also warned that a second pregnancy could possibly be fatal. Dr Fuchs (rhymes with nooks, not mucks) promises to do his best. Lady Bab, grasping at anything that might help her produce a child, begs Dr F to prepare a tincture for her condition. Uh oh. Does she really mean for Dr Fuchs to work as a chemist? My plot development antennas are on full alert.

Next, a cocky disinherited Edward saunters into Lady D’s mansion to apologize for past misbehaviors and to avow he’s seen the error of his ways. Lady D, no fool she, tells him to keep his mitts off Lady Bab and to leave them alone. As he withdraws from the house, he sees Lady Bab on the stairway and with his usual unctuous B.S. tries to sweet talk her. She doesn’t believe a lying word he says and orders him to leave her the H alone.

Meanwhile, a grieving Charlotte decides that the only recourse open to her after Sidney’s death – for with him went all her hopes, dreams, and aspirations – is to become a governess. Now, those of us who have read Austen and Heyer novels, and Mills & Boon pulp romances, know that this is one of the worst situations for a lady. A governess is neither here nor there – not a servant nor part of the family – she’s simply a nebbish, a nobody, a “baby in the corner” (Reference to Dirty Dancing) as Augusta Markham reminds her in Episode 2, but I get ahead of myself.

Char’s decision upsets her sister Alison, who looks forward to parties, balls, and long promenades with handsome young men, and introductions to a potential husband, (for what is a woman without a man beside becoming a useless spinster, especially if that woman is poor with few prospects)? Alison wants her pretty sister as a companion, not some wannabe governess, which would be a “bad” look, but Charlotte remains firm in her conviction to earn her own way as an independent woman.

For show, the Colonel’s company arranges a dramatic military parade through town to announce their stay for the summer. Loving a spectacle, citizens and visitors line the promenade. The colonel and his men look suitably splendid. Lady D and Lady Bab pay court to friends and acquaintances in the pavilion/band stand. Georgiana and supporters hand out anti-sugar leaflets to the crowd, for our young heiress resents that her fortune was made on the backs of hard-working slaves.

(Please hover your cursor over the images for a description.)

A child dressed in uniform shadows the company; a teenage girl follows her unobserved. It turns out the child is a tomboy named Leonora and the girl is her cousin, Augusta. In her excitement, Leonora steps in front of the horses and Char jumps in to save her. This heroic action attracts the eye of Colonel Lennox, who admires her bravery. Char, no wuss, avows that anyone with some gumption would have done the same thing, which intrigues him.

And so we see Char in the Parker’s carriage taking two surly children home. Neither is particularly grateful, but Charlotte knows a thing or two about unruly young-uns. She knocks on the door and is greeted by the housekeeper, Mrs Wheatley, a dignified woman from the West Indies. After a short conversation, the housekeeper mentions that the master is looking for yet another governess. “They seem to drop like flies. Go figure.” A sudden idea strikes Charlotte – “Mon dieu! I could apply for this position and teach these ungovernable children as badly as any governess!” She returns to Sanditon excited.

Before you can say “hire”, Char, carrying her portfolio, returns to Mr Colbourne’s mansion on foot for an interview. The gardens and path towards the house are beautiful and suitably grand. Mrs Wheatley ushers Charlotte to her master’s study. Mr Colbourne, a handsome enough man, but not off-puttingly so, seldom looks up from his desk as he tests Charlotte in her knowledge of maths, geography, French, ladies deportments, and the like. (I would have been turned away after maths.)

He questions her background and abilities, thereby raising her hackles. AS IF he’s had any success keeping a governess for a mere fortnight! While Char might not have the boarding school qualifications for this position, she oversaw the studies of 11 younger siblings, thank you very much. When Colbourne sniffs at that bit of news and questions her further, Miss Char, who’s arrived with no references, decides she’s had enough of this obnoxious interview and of his opinions, especially when he demands that his girls receive a tepid education in embroidery, dance, and deportment, for those are the only qualities a wife needs. Char tells him what for and that every young lady deserves a REAL education. She grabs her portfolio and walks off in a huff.

We next see her walking along a beautiful shoreline when, in a minute, 5 minutes or 15 minutes or so, Mr Colbourne catches up with her on horseback and asks, “You left too early. When can you start?”

“Uh, like when do you want me?”

“ASAP.”

When he turns to leave, Charlotte slaps a high five in the air and imagines her parents shouting, “You go girl!”

Meanwhile, another rebellious young woman, Miss Lambe “borrows” a carriage from a wanna be suitor she’s already rejected and enlists young Alison Heywood to join her in watching the soldiers on the beach. The girl, delighted with the invitation, hops on board.

As they approach the soldiers at breakneck speed, Georgiana loses control of the horse. An axle gives way, tossing poor young Alison on her keister. Q’uelle horreure! A buff soldier approaches. Young. Blonde. Handsome. He proffers his hand and raises her up with such tenderness and manners, that cupid’s arrow instantly strikes Alison’s heart.

My JA copycat sensor is on alert, for this scene is remarkably similar to Willoughby’s manly rescue of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. That young girl, too, was instantly smitten with her hero. To be honest, Willoughby’s carrying a well-fed Marianne over a great stretch of land required more muscular effort than Captain Carter’s gallantry of proffering his hand and pulling Ms Alison up from her keister, but who am I to judge? How can one pit a robust JA Willoughby against a Davies Willoughby-light and come up with a just verdict?

Then I asked myself: Did Georgiana also fall on her bum? And who rescued HER? And who tended to that poor dear horse? Informed minds were left wondering, for the camera panned to a new scene.

At the last, we learn from Tom that, after reading a letter he recently received from Antigua, Sidney’s interests were on Georgiana’s behalf. As Episode One ends, we are left in anticipation and on the edge of our chairs, seats, or sofas for the next installment. I drain a last glass of wine. Drat! As I look over my schedule, my reviews shall have to continue in early June.

More on Episode One

On set with Arthur Parker:

Had I known of this video, I would not have spent so much time figuring out when I was viewing CGI enhanced sets or real locations, or a combination of both. I had figured out that the shops lining the High Street along the promenade were fronts. I could see no one entering or leaving through the door. Actors walked along the promenade, lounged against walls, or chatted in groups. Some even stood outside on balconies. Not a one walked in or out, except for the Parker family, who entered Trafalgar House and exited from it. This video will show you what’s inside that hallway! And how the beach and ocean are CGI’d in.

Another review

Funny review from GBH Boston PBS – Worth the read!

Regarding Comments

Gentle readers, feel free to agree or disagree with me or others in your comments, but please remain respectful of each others’ opinions. Thank you for your support and thoughtfulness. This blog has provided a safe haven for comments by Janeites across the world. Respectfully yours, Vic

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Inquiring readers,

I’ve had the pleasure of viewing the play, Sense and Sensibility, an enjoyable adaptation by Kate Hamill from the Jane Austen novel of that name. It was directed by Susanna Gellert in Everyman Theatre. Ten actors, all professionals and most of whom reside in the Baltimore/Washington area, play all the parts. Except for the actresses who portray Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the remaining actors take on a variety of roles, as you can read in the image below or in the link to the online program.

List of actors

The venue was intimate and the set simple, fluid, and changeable. A single door, two windows, two tables, and a number of chairs are rolled around the stage on caster wheels, and within a minute or less we are treated to a scene in Norland Park, a journey by carriage (yes) to Barton Cottage or a visit with Mrs Jennings to London, a tete a tete between Mrs Ferrars and Lucy Steele, a confrontation between Fanny Dashwood and the hapless Lucy, Marianne’s illness at the Palmer’s house, etc.

This online program in pdf format provides a synopsis of the play, history of Everyman Theatre and biographies of all those involved in the writing, directing, acting, and production of this play.

Sense and sensibility

The above screen shots are deliberately small so they are heavily pixilated when enlarged and cannot be reproduced, but they will give you a sense of the stage sets. At the far right is the opening scene around Mr Dashwood’s corpse, to its left is the first look Marianne, Mrs Dashwood, Margaret, and Elinor have of Barton Cottage; to its left is a view of the “gossips,” who catch the audience up on much of the plot in London; the third image from the left demonstrates how the actors have moved the furniture to resemble a carriage. The two men at the front are the horses; the final two images at the extreme left show the dance and the double weddings. 

Since the actors are American, there was no pretense of affecting a British accent. Ms. Hamill, for the sake of stagecraft, deviates from Austen’s novel much like Emma Thompson’s script did in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Both writers followed Austen’s plot and comedic moments, but as they emphasized her wit they expressed their own humor in different ways, which made my noticing their similarities and differences all the more enjoyable.

Emma Thompson and Kate Hamill were also keenly aware of their modern audiences. Thompson’s characterization of Mr Palmer was hilarious and instantly recognizable; Ms Hamill’s scene of Fanny Dashwood going manic and pummeling Lucy Steele when she discovers that the young woman is engaged to her brother Edward was not only fun to watch, but quite original (and much too short). The actress, Tuet Thi Pham (Fanny/Lucy), tussles with herself, using her body and gymnastic gyrations to demonstrate Fanny attacking a defensive Lucy. Ms Pham speaks/shouts out both roles, while providing the audience with an unforgettable spectacle of a madwoman swinging at flies.

Because the sets in this theatrical production are puritanically stark, precisely lit, and moveable, one must use one’s imagination to “see” the houses/mansions, their interiors, the English countryside, or a visit to London. Someone who is not familiar with Regency customs and manners, or who has not read the novel, might have a hard time following the plot, but I think they will enjoy this thespian take on Austen’s novel nevertheless.

For the dramatic denouement, all the elements of the plot come together. Marianne attempts to reach Willoughby’s estate in the rain, but now lies sick and heartsick (on top of a table that serves as a bed.) Col Brandon, frantic with worry, offers to escort Mrs Dashwood to her daughter. Meanwhile, Willoughby visits the Palmer house, all contrite but self-absorbed. He wants Marianne’s forgiveness. Elinor sees through him, for she knows that he’s a cad who’s impregnated an innocent girl and married a rich woman for gain, and orders him to leave.

Colonel Brandon returns with Mamma Dashwood and all is good, for during her recovery he reads to Marianne in the dramatic manner of which she approves. (Oh, how ‘Sensibility’ of him to be so aware of his beloved’s preferences!). Edward Ferrars visits Barton Cottage to reveal that Lucy married his rich bro Robert and that he’s free to love our Sensible Elinor. She morphs into a puddle of melting pudding before saying yes.

In the next scene we see the company dancing at a ball. The door then opens to a double wedding, after which the casts sings Starlight, a delightful song by Dua Lipa (“All night, come and dance with me; You’re my starlight; I need you; All night; Starlight) which is sung by the cast as they line dance –or dance in line — I couldn’t tell! In this way the production connects again with modern audiences (ie. the young-uns) and the play ends in the most feel good way.

I watched the video link on a beautiful evening with a glass of wine. The reflections on my screen made the production look like it was set in a forest.

Screen Shot 2022-05-13 at 4.58.59 PM

Vic watching Sense and Sensibility.

My neighbor and friend, Peg, wrote this turbo review:

“Saw the production yesterday and thought it was fabulous!  Amazing what they do on that stage with so few props and the cast in several different roles.  I knew the story though had never seen the play or movie and thoroughly enjoyed.”

__________________________

Everyman Theater-Laura Weiss

Everyman Theatre

The most wonderful result of watching this play is that I discovered Everyman Theatre, a nonprofit theater in downtown Baltimore that seats 253 downstairs in the main auditorium. The theater also boasts a newly renovated space for 210 upstairs for a more intimate theater experience. Both are just the perfect size for me. If I recall, the Firehouse Theater, which I loved attending in Richmond, VA, seated fewer than 80 in the audience.

In addition, Everyman box office also sells a virtual link that one can watch after the live production closes. I was given 48 hours to watch the play after clicking on the link, which gave me an opportunity to take notes for this review and re-watch certain scenes.

Opinion: If this production of Sense & Sensibility comes to a theater near you, I am certain you will like it immensely.

Song at end: Dua Lipa’s Starlight

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The outbreak into beauty which Nature makes at the end of April and beginning of May excites so joyful and admiring a feeling in the human breast, that there is no wonder the event should have at all times been celebrated in some way. – May 1st, Chambers’ Book of Days”

Inquiring readers, 

Ah, the merry month of May, when flowers bloom in the meadows and young couples go a-maying. May 1st is a day when fertility and fecundity are celebrated with gaiety, song, and dance. On May Day the ancient Celts celebrated the Pagan festival of Beltane around a roaring fire on the tops of hills and mountains. Coincidentally, the Romans celebrated the first of May Day in honor of the goddess Flora. According to the Chambers’ Book of Days, 

“Nations taking more or less their origin from Rome have settled upon the 1st of May as the special time for fetes of the same kind. With ancients and moderns alike it was one instinctive rush to the fields, to revel in the bloom which was newly presented on the meadows and the trees; the more city-pent the population, the more eager apparently the desire to get among the flowers, and bring away samples of them: – Ibid

In medieval times the day was dedicated to Robin Hood, but by 1645, Oliver Cromwell had banned May Day celebrations because of their association with pagan rituals. The celebrations were brought back after the Restoration, when King Charles II was placed on the British throne.

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,

  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her

  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws

The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.

  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 

  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,

  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,

  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.

Thus we salute thee with our early Song,

And welcom thee, and wish thee long.

– Song on May Morning, John Milton 

The following quote from Brand’s & Ellis’s Observations on Popular Antiquities (1813) takes you back to the Elizabethan era: 

“IT  was  anciently  the  custom  for  all  ranks  of  people  to  go  out  a  Maying  early on  the  first  of  Maya.  Bourne  tells  us  that,  in  his  time,  in  the  villages  in  the North  of  England,  the  juvenile  part  of  both  sexes  were  wont  to  rise  a  little  after midnight  on  the  morning  of  that  day,  and  walk  to  some  neighbouring  wood, accompanied  with  musick  and  the  blowing  of  horns,  where  they  broke  down branches  from  the  trees  and  adorned  them  with  nosegays  and  crowns  of  flowers. This  done,  they  returned  homewards  with  their  booty,  about  the  time  of  sun- rise, and  made  their  doors  and  windows  triumph  in  the  flowery  spoil. – (Brand & Ellis, Observations on Popular Antiquities…Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions, 1813, pp. 179-180.) 

Back then people festooned doors and windows with flower garlands. Every village, town, and district affixed a pole in a public space as “high as a ship’s vessel”.  A tree of an appropriate height was selected and brought in with much ceremony. It was then erected in a spot where it stood from year to year. Many of these poles stood much higher than the church steeple in a village or town.

Maypole

Maypole, Chambers’ Book of Days, May 1st

The MayPole

“But  their cheefest  Jewell  they  bring  from  thence”  [the  woods]  ”  is  their  Male  poole, whiche  they  bring  home  with  greatc  veneration,  as  thus.  They  have  twentie  or fourtie  yoke  of  oxen,  every  oxe  havyng  a  sweete  nosegaie  of  flowers  tyed  on the  tippe  of  his  homes,  and  these  oxen  drawe  home  this  Maie  poole,  (this stinckyng  Idoll  rather,)  which  is  covered  all  over  with  flowers  and  hearbes, bounde  rounde  aboute  with  stringes,  from  the  top  to  the  bottomo,  and  some- tyme  painted  with  variable  colours,  with  twoo  or  three  hundred  men,  women, and  children  followyng  it,  with  greate  devotion.” – Brand & Ellis, p. 193

The MayPole was festooned with wreaths of flowers; revelers danced in rings around it for nearly the entire day. Then, as mentioned before, during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth those revelries ceased:

“By  an  ordinance  of the  [Long]  Parliament,  in  April  1644,  all  May  Poles  were  taken  down,  and removed  by  the  constables,  churchwardens,  &c.  After  the  restoration,  they were  permitted  to  be  erected  again’.” – Brand & Ellis, p. 195

Milk maids dance on May Day

Milk maids dance on May Day, Chambers’ Book of Days

The Book of Chambers writes: “The Puritans—those most respectable people, always so unpleasantly shown as the enemies of mirth and good humour — caused May-poles to be uprooted, and a stop put to all their jollities; but after the Restoration they were everywhere re-erected, and the appropriate rites re-commenced.”

Just sixteen years later, “maypoles were raised across the land as a gleeful marker of the end of Puritan prohibitions.”  (John Chu, National Trust). Rites included chimney sweeps hustling for coins in the streets and milkmaids dancing for pennies as they balanced silverware on their heads. 

The Green Man in Jane Austen’s Day

Green Man 800px-Domreiter,_Blattmaske

Green Man, Wikimedia Commons, File: Domreiter, Blattmaske.jpg

Since early Christian days, many of Britain’s cathedrals and churches – those in countries that were populated by the ancient Romans – featured sculpted images of the “green man.” These pagan images were carved for Christian churches before the Restoration, for superstitions pertaining to nature and tree worship still influenced the middle ages. The Green Man symbolized life, or the death and rebirth that heralded spring and the promise of a plentiful harvest in the coming months. The early churches might have tied these beliefs to the resurrection, which made sense in terms of the Christian faith.

During Austen’s day, the tradition of Jack-in-the-Green became a common sight. 

May Day, or, Jack-in-the-Green

We’ll banish Care, and all his Train

Nor thought of Sadness round us play

Fly distant hence, corroding pain

For happiness shall crown this Day.

(20th June 1795) (May Day, All Things Georgian)

The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser first mentioned the Jack-in-the-Green  in 1775, (the year of Jane Austen’s birth). The character  was a man who concealed his body with green foliage. This “walking tree” paraded in processions, along with a King and Queen (or a Lord and lady), and jesters, clowns, chimney sweeps, and musicians. The Jack-in-the-Green tradition largely died out in the Victorian era. 

Jack-in-the-Green-BritMus

© The Trustees of the British Museum “A street scene. An elderly man and woman, wearing tawdry finery, dance opposite each other, to the music of a wooden-legged fiddler (left). Between and behind them a grinning face looks from a pyramid of greenery, supported on the feet of the Jack in the Green. A couple of chimney-sweeps dance in the middle distance on the extreme right, and in the background (left) two other climbing-boys on a tiny scale dance together. Beneath the title: ‘We’ll banish Care, and all his Train Nor thought of Sadness round us play Fly distant hence, corroding pain For happiness shall crown this Day.’ 20 June 1795 Etching”

_______

Happy 1st day of May, all! Looking at my yard and its fresh greenery, spring flowers, and the activity of nesting birds, and the pregnant deer wandering through my yard, I realize why May Day traditions and celebrations of fertility continue in this day and age.

I leave you with a wonderful video of Morris dancers, whose traditions stem back to the custom of dancing around the maypole. These dances evolved into rival performances among neighboring villages and eventually evolved into Morris dancing. You can find many regional examples online. This video shows only one such interpretation.

Sources:  Find more information about May Day in the links below.

Hillman’s Hyperlinked and Searchable Chambers’ Book of Days, a website based on The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities, W & R Chambers (1869). Searched link: May 1st. Scroll down to May Day. May 1st

Brand, John & Ellis, Henry,  Observations on Popular Antiquities Chiefly illustrating the origin of our vulgar customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions: Arranged and revl, with additions. (Published in 1813)  Internet Archive Digital Book

May Day: the tradition of the Jack-in-the-Green and chimney sweeps, All Things Georgian, Joanne Major, 2017. https://georgianera.wordpress.com/tag/may-day/

Satirical Print, The British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1866-1114-640

The Green Man, Ellen Castelow, & May Day Celebrations, Ben Johnson Historic UK 

Green Man, Wikipedia. A foliate head in the shape of an acanthus leaf: a corbel supporting the Bamberg Horseman, Bamberg cathedral, Germany, early 13th century. Public Domain File: Domreiter, Blattmaske.jpg  Green man sculptures seen in Iraq, Istanbul, North Wales, etc.

The MayPole Tradition in Ireland, The Fading Years blog, April 26, 2017

The history of May Day, a spring celebration, John Chu, National Trust, UK.

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By Brenda S. Cox

“I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other.”—Jane Austen, letter to Anna Lefroy, Nov. 29, 1814

Austen’s First Cousins

Jane Austen was closely connected to her three first cousins: Eliza, Edward, and Jane. (She had additional cousins from her father’s half-brother, William Hampson Walter, though she doesn’t seem to have been as close to them.)

Eliza: Her father’s sister Philadelphia had one daughter, lively Eliza Hancock de Feuillide. Eliza, whose first husband was guillotined in the French Revolution, later married Jane’s brother Henry.

Jane: Jane’s mother’s sister (also named Jane) married a clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Edward Cooper. They had two children, Edward and another Jane. That Jane, Jane Leigh Cooper, went away to school for a time with Jane and Cassandra Austen. Her letter home from Southampton told their parents that the girls were seriously ill with typhus. Mrs. Austen and Mrs. Cooper came and took them home. The girls all survived, but, sadly, Mrs. Cooper caught the illness and died. Jane and Edward Cooper spent a lot of time with the Austen family. Jane was even married at Steventon, to a naval captain, Captain Williams, who was later knighted. Charles Austen served under him in the Navy. Tragically, Jane Cooper, by then called Lady Williams, died in a carriage accident in 1798.

Edward: Edward Cooper, Jane Cooper’s brother, became a clergyman like his father. He is mentioned frequently in Jane Austen’s letters. In her first two existing letters (Jan. 9 and 14, 1796), she talks about his visit to Steventon with his young son and daughter.

Edward Cooper, Clergyman

Many of Jane Austen’s friends and relatives were clergymen (estimated at over a hundred, including of course her father and two of her brothers). She held strong opinions on church livings. When Edward got his living, she wrote (Jan. 21, 1799):

Yesterday came a letter to my mother from Edward Cooper to announce, not the birth of a child, but of a living; for Mrs. Leigh [a relative, the Hon. Mary Leigh, of Stoneleigh] has begged his acceptance of the Rectory of Hamstall-Ridware in Staffordshire, vacant by Mr. Johnson’s death. We collect from his letter that he means to reside there, in which he shows his wisdom.

Staffordshire is a good way off [about 140 miles]; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls. The living is valued at £140 a year, but perhaps it may be improvable. How will they be able to convey the furniture of the dressing-room so far in safety?

Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast. One is incorporated into the family [Eliza de Feuillide], another dies [Jane Cooper, Lady Williams], and a third [Edward Cooper] goes into Staffordshire.  [Brackets added.]

Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Hamstall Ridware, where Jane Austen’s cousin Edward Cooper served as rector.
Bs0u10e01, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jane commented that Edward intended “to reside” at his living, which showed “his wisdom.” At this time, many clergy hired curates to serve their livings rather than residing in them and doing the work themselves. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram makes a strong statement about residing at one’s living:

“A parish has wants and claims which can be known only by a clergyman constantly resident, and which no proxy can be capable of satisfying to the same extent. Edmund might, in the common phrase, do the duty of Thornton, that is, he might read prayers and preach, without giving up Mansfield Park: he might ride over every Sunday, to a house nominally inhabited, and go through divine service; he might be the clergyman of Thornton Lacey every seventh day, for three or four hours, if that would content him. But it will not. He knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey; and that if he does not live among his parishioners, and prove himself, by constant attention, their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own.”–Mansfield Park, ch. 25

Austen also mentioned that Edward might be able to “improve” his living. That means he might increase his income by negotiating for higher tithe payments from the farmers or leasing extra farmland, as Austen’s father did. Edward Ferrars’s living in Sense and Sensibility is also “capable of improvement” (ch. 39). Cooper added to his income later by becoming rector of nearby Yoxall (much like George Austen, who served two adjacent parishes).

In 1801 Austen said Edward wrote to her after his wife Caroline had a baby.

I have heard twice from Edward on the occasion, & his letters have each been exactly what they ought to be–chearful & amusing.–He dares not write otherwise to me, but perhaps he might be obliged to purge himself from the guilt of writing Nonsense by filling his shoes with whole pease for a week afterwards.–Mrs. G. [Mrs. Girle, Caroline Cooper’s grandmother] has left him £100–his Wife and son £500 each. (Jan. 21, 1801)

It appears that while Jane thought of Edward as too serious, he was willing to write “Nonsense” to her.

Later that month, Edward invited the Austens to come visit his family at the parsonage in Hamstall Ridware. However, Jane says, “at present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations” (Jan. 25, 1801). Her family had already visited Edward in 1799, when he was a curate at Harpsden. The Austens did visit the Coopers at Hamstall Ridware for five weeks in the summer of 1806, after going to Stoneleigh Abbey. 

Interior of Edward Cooper’s Hamstall Ridware church;
John Salmon via Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane seemed to have trouble keeping track of Edward’s children. Some of them died quite young. In 1811 she wrote, “It was a mistake of mine, my dear Cassandra, to talk of a tenth child at Hamstall. I had forgot there were but eight already” (May 29).

In 1808, when Jane’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Knight, died, Jane wrote, “I have written to Edward Cooper, & hope he will not send one of his Letters of cruel comfort to my poor Brother” (Oct. 15). We don’t know what sort of “cruel comfort” Edward had written in the past. The one still-existing letter from Edward to Jane was written in 1817 and sounds heartfelt and kind. His friend and neighbor John Gisborne wrote that Edward was a great comfort to him in his son’s final illness. But perhaps Edward had taken the opportunity to preach some of his Evangelical ideas in a letter, and Jane and her family did not agree.

Edward Cooper believed and preached an Evangelical interpretation of the Bible. Many of his sermons were published in books, which were reprinted and read for many years, in a long series of editions. So even if Jane didn’t care much for them, others did!

Next month in Part 2, we’ll look at what Edward’s Evangelical ideas were, what Jane Austen thought of his sermons, and why.

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written a book called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England, which she hopes will be available by the end of this year.

 

For Further Reading

Edward Cooper: Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 2

Visiting Edward Cooper,” Gaye King, Persuasions 1987

Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” Donald Greene, Persuasions 1985 (Includes a photo of the rectory where Jane and her family visited Edward and his family)

Come and Visit Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin,” Jane Austen House Museum blog, Sept. 17, 2012 (includes Edward Cooper’s portrait)

Edward Cooper’s letter to Jane April 6, 1817 (article also includes commentary on the letter) 

Jane Austen in the Midlands,” scroll down for a section on Cooper.

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed.

Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed.

Laura Dabundo, Jane Austen: A Companion

Irene Collins, “Displeasing Pictures of Clergymen,” Persuasions 18 (1996): 110. Collins says Austen’s correspondence refers to at least 90 clergymen, and her biographers could add many more. 

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

John Gisborne and his daughter E. N. A., Brief Memoir of the Life of John Gisborne, Esq., to which are added, Extracts from his Diary (London: Whittaker, 1852), 114-115, 128, 227. 

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