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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:


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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

2010 Upstairs Downstairs cast

Last night, Tuesday 27th December, saw the final episode of the three-part revival of Upstairs Downstairs (2010). It was shown on BBC 1. This new reincarnation saw the action move on in time, from the final years portrayed in the original series, to the years between the two World Wars.

Front door. Image @Tony Grant

Upstairs Down stairs was the idea of two actress friends, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. Eileen Atkins was not able to take part in the original series because of acting commitments in the West End at the time. In this new version she plays the part of Lady Agnes, the dowager head of the household. Jean Marsh reprises her role as Rose from the original series. Now she has become the head of a servants letting agency.

Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh in Upstairs Downstairs 2010

The series portrays the lives of people from two different strata of society, the servants and the aristocracy. One of the main themes reveals how these two social groups are closely entwined and rely on each other. It is interesting to note the period, between the two wars, when the action takes place in this new series was the time when the relationship between the classes and indeed the classes themselves changed. One class serving another class that intimately was near its end. A new world was being born out of the necessities of war.

Harrods truck

My own roots lie with the working and servant classes of that era. My Great Aunt Kate, my Great Grandmothers sister, worked as a nanny for the Chamberlain family and lived in a flat in one of the Chamberlain family houses in Cheney Walk, Chelsea. Neville Chamberlain was the prime minister at the start of the second world war. Neville Chamberlain himself lived in a house in Eaton Square, the main square in Belgravia.

Transformation of Clarendon Square in Leamington Spa for Upstairs Downstairs 2010

My grandfather, on my father’s side, had been a guardsman fighting in France during the First World War. After the First World War he became the head barman of the Cunard Line, serving the famous and the elite on the transatlantic ships crossing to New York in the interwar years. My other grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a skilled draughtsman and worked in shipyards on the Tyne River in Newcastle upon Tyne and later, because of the depression, moved south to work in a shipyard in Southampton.

Belgravia and park. Image @Tony Grant

The action to Upstairs Downstairs is set in a house in Belgravia, number 165 Eaton Place.

West side of Belgrave Square, 1828. Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

Belgravia, is the most salubrious address in the United Kingdom and one of the top addresses in the world to this day. The Duke of Westminster owns the land and many of the freeholds and leaseholds on the property in Belgravia. In the 1820’s the then Duke of Westminster, Richard Grosvenor, had as one of his titles, Viscount Belgrave, and it was this name he gave to the area.

Belgravia House. Image @Tony Grant

To the north is Buckingham Palace but to the east side is Victoria Railway Station with it’s grand railway hotel looking like an old French Chateaux. This symbol of steam and industrialisation represented the Victorians desire to see and conquer the world. From here the boat trains would leave London for the ferries at Dover and Folkestone and the route to Europe. Many of the rich who lived nearby in Belgravia would leave London on the Orient Express for Paris, Rome, Athens, and Istanbul, and take tours to The East. Victoria Station is a symbol of the growing desire for travel and to see the world. The Belgravia set got there first.

St. Peters, Eaton Square, Belgravia. 1827.

The Duke of Westminster employed Thomas Cubitt – who built mostly grand terraces with white stuccoed fronts – to develop the area. Construction was focused around Belgrave Square and Eaton Square.

Thomas Cubbitt, 1788-1855

From the start the super rich and the aristocracy bought properties in this area and used the land for their town houses. This part of London has remained exclusive to this day. The Queen lives in Buckingham Palace bordering the north part of Belgravia; and Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil oligarch, has a property in Lowndes Square. He is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and one the richest men in the world. The average price of a property in Belgravia today is £6.6 million pounds. But prices going up to and above £100 million pounds have been known. Apart from the very rich, many famous actors, film stars, writers and politicians have lived and still choose to live in this area.

Image @Tony Grant

Margaret Thatcher lives in Chester Square and Joan Collins lives in Eaton Place. Elle MacPherson, the model; Arcelor Mittal, the Indian Steal producer magnet; and Christopher Lee, the horror film star, all live in Belgravia.

Dame Edith Evans' house in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

In the past, both Mozart and Chopin stayed there. Other more recent tenants include: Dame Edith Evans;Vivien Leigh; Ian Flemming, the writer of the James Bond books and, indeed, Sean Connery himself; Roger Moore; Tennyson, the poet; Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein; Noel Coward; Henry Gray, famous for his Grays Anatomy; the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein – the list could go on.

Dress shop in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

After the Second World War many of the houses in Belgravia became embassies, company offices or the headquarters of charities, and the number of houses owned by a single family reduced. However, since the year 2000 many houses are now being converted back into family homes, a visible sign that the number of rich in the world has increased.

Mews houses in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

Mews houses sit behind the great terraced houses fronting the squares. When the properties were originally built in the 1820s, these were the stables that once housed the horses and carriages used by the rich for transport. As cars became fashionable, the mews were turned into garages. Nowadays many have been converted into very desirable homes. To own a mews house in Belgravia is nearly as posh as owning one of the grand terrace houses.

Belgravia through the trees. Image @Tony Grant

The area has not changed much since it was developed in the 1820’s. Except for modern transportation, the streets and house exteriors are the same.

Leamington Spa street transformed for Upstairs Downstairs 2010. Image @BBC

As you walk around Belgravia today, try and imagine the area as it was in the 1820’s. In your mind’s eye, you can still imagine the servants disappearing down the stone stairs behind the black ornate iron railings into the basements. You might be lucky enough to glimpse a Lord or Lady, or even Margaret Thatcher mounting the steps to her front door and seeing it opened by a starch-collared butler. Pick a door yourself, take the large black, iron hoop suspended from the jaws of an angry looking iron lion’s head, rap it smartly, and the door might be opened by Mr. Hudson himself.

Mr. Hudson, 1970s series

Upstairs Downstairs 2010 will be aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic in April, 2011. It was recently aired on BBC One in the U.K.

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Downton Abbey, a PBS Masterpiece Classic mini-series, is as much a tale about the servants below stairs as about the noble Earl of Grantham and his family who employed them. With the recent airing of the updated version of Upstairs Downstairs in Great Britain, I am sure a debate will long rage about which series portrayed their eras and class differences better. In both cases, the viewer is the winner.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle, an “Elizabethan Pile”) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

No matter how expertly this mini-series of Downton Abbey tries to portray this bygone era, it is nearly impossible to capure life in an Edwardian country house exactly as it once was. The viewer should be aware that we can glimpse only a faint, musty, museum shadow of the complex and thriving community that a great English estate once supported.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Crawleys and the servants of Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

It is a well-known fact that grand country houses could only be run with a great deal of help. As early as the 18th century, Patrick Colquhoun estimated that there were around 910,000 domestic servants (in a population of 9 million). By 1911, the number of domestic servants had risen to 1.3 million. Eighty percent of the land during the Edwardian era was owned by only 3% of the population, yet these vast estates were considered major employers.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl (Hugh Bonneville) and his heir, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), survey his vast estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the grander and larger houses, the ratio of servants (both indoor and outdoor) to the family could approach 1:7 or 1:10, but as the industrial revolution introduced improvements in laundering, lawn maintenance, and cooking, the number of servants required to run a great estate was greatly reduced.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl and his heir, Matthew Crawley, survey the cottages and outer buildings on his estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After World War One and the rise in taxes for each servant employed, many great families no longer kept two sets of house staff. They began to bring servants from their country house to their house in Town, leaving only a skeleton crew behind to maintain the family seat in their absence.

Grounds of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)

Country estates were designed to showcase the owner’s wealth via collections of art, furniture and other luxurious possessions, such as carriages, lawn tennis courts, and the like. The main house sat at the end of a long and winding drive through acres of beautifully landscaped park lands.

Downton Abbey.

The Duke is greeted by both the family and the servants. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The spectacle did not end there, for approaching the house, guests would see a grand facade or an equally imposing flight of stairs that led to the first floor (or both). In Downtown Abbey, the family awaited the arrival of the Duke of Crowborough (Charlie Cox) along with their servants, who were arrayed in line according to their station.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The servants await their new masters at Norland. Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Such a display of staff was also evident in the 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, when Fanny and Robert Dashwood arrived to claim Norland Park.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Grand interior hall of Downton Abbey, floor leading to the private rooms. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Once introductions had been made, the guests would ascend the imposing stairway and enter an equally impressive high-ceilinged hall that contained yet another grand staircase, which led to the private rooms upstairs. The ladies customarily brought their own maids, who would also require lodging. (In Gosford Park, a poor female relation had to make do with one of the hostesses’ house maids to help her with her dress and hair.)

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Thomas (Rob James-Collier), the first footman, is chosen to act as valet to the duke. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The guests’ servants were expected to enter the house through a separate, back servant’s entrance, and shared quarters with the regular staff. The host supplied his own butler or footmen to help serve as valet to his male guests.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Earl of Grantham’s impressive library/study. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

A host’s willingness to lavishly entertain his guests did not necessarily reflect the family’s daily schedule:

In 1826 a German visitor to England remarked that: it requires a considerable fortune here to keep up a country house; for custom demands… a handsomely fitted-up house with elegant furniture, plate, servants in new and handsome liveries, a profusion of dishes and foreign wines, rare and expensive desserts… As long as there are visitors in the house, this way of life goes on; but many a family atones for it by meagre fare when alone; for which reasons, nobody here ventures to pay a visit in the country without being invited, and these invitations usually fix the day and hour… True hospitality this can hardly be called; it is rather the display of one’s own possessions, for the purpose of dazzling as many as possible.(3)” – The Country House: JASA

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Travel in winter, Henry Alken, 1785

Guests stayed for a long time for a variety of reasons. In the 17th and 18th centuries, travel over a long distance was laboriously slow and difficult, for roads were notoriously poor and dangerous. Long visits, such as Cassandra Austen’s visits to her brother Edward in Godmersham Park, became a custom. Even during the Edwardian age, when travel was much improved, guests tended to stay for the weekend (Saturday through Monday). In Downton Abbey, the Duke of Crowborough arrived amidst much hope and anticipation, until he discovered that the estate had been entailed to a third cousin not the earl’s daughter, whom he had come to woo, and he cut his visit to one short day and evening, making an excuse that did not hold water.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Catherine Morland (Katherine Schlessinger) and Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), Northanger Abbey 1986

Even during the 18th century, when long-term guests were expected, some overstayed their welcome, like Jane Austen’s anti-heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, whose hostess (sister-in-law) despised her but was forced to tolerate her because she was ‘family.’ Desirable guests, like Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, were invited to extend their visit. In Catherine’s instance, Eleanor Tilney, a motherless young lady who lived without a female companion, found the young girl’s company delightful. By the time General Tilney discovered that Catherine was no heiress, she had been with the Allens in Bath and the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey for a total of 11 weeks. As previously noted, Edwardian hosts, while generous, expected house guest to stay for only three days. During this time every luxury was lavished upon them, but it was considered bad form if they stayed longer than arranged or without invitation.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast was a substantial meal served at 9:30 a.m. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

At set times, Edwardian guests would congregate in the common rooms, which included the drawing room, music room, dining room and breakfast room, the library or study, the gallery (where ancient family portraits were hung), the billiard room, and the conservatory. Vast lawns and gardens were laid out for promenading; guests could ride or walk through the parklands to view picturesque follys or dine alfresco (outdoors), take tea under an awning, or paint a vista or two.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Taking tea alfresco. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The reputation of a host rested on the entertainments, which helped to pass the time – walking, riding, shooting (in winter), and hunting (in fall) for outdoor activities; and card parties, musicales, and dances for indoor festivities. A fox hunt, such as the one depicted in Downton Abbey, required riding skill and stamina, for the chase would take riders over hills and dales, and hedges, and over long distances for much of the day.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The hunt required riding skills and stamina.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Billiards made an appearance during the 17th century, and by the 19th century billiard rooms had become a staple. Private libraries offered a variety of books and periodicals. In the summer, Edwardians enjoyed lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, and golf (by the men).

The male guests in Regency House Party (2004) could pretty well behave and move around as they pleased.

Ladies and gentlemen tended to spend the day apart. Male guests were more active and could engage in almost any activity during the day, except at the time reserved for dinner, when they were expected to show up. In an Edwardian house, men did not escort their female dining partners into the dining room. Rather, after the host served cocktails in the drawing room a half hour before the meal, the group moved to the dining room where they were seated according to a set pattern, with guests sitting between members of the family and their neighbors.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The new heir of Downton Abbey (Dan Stevens) sits next to his hostess, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After dinner, the ladies would remove to the drawing room, which became increasingly larger and more feminine over time, while the gentleman relaxed at the dining room table, drinking port, smoking their cheroots, and discussing manly topics.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The drawing room at Downton Abbey was large and feminine. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

While an 18th century gentlemen would have talked about horse flesh and carriages, Edwardian guests would have included automobiles and their rapidly changing technology, road improvements, and the availability of petrol as well.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Transportation was changing rapidly at the turn of the 20th century. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike the gentlemen, a lady’s day was more restricted and confined. She spent her day following a set routine, starting with breakfast, and wearing appropriate outfits and getting into them and out of them. Mothers spent some time overseeing the nannies and the care of their children (if they were brought along). Ladies, married or not, would also receive visitors, sew, gossip, read, walk, participate in charity work, observe the men at sport (if invited) or take a ride in the carriage. They did join in on more active, outdoor games at set times during the appropriate season, such as cricket, croquet, lawn tennis, lawn bowling, and the like, but they would have been properly dressed for the occasion.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The head maid (Joanne Froggatt) dresses Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) hair for dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Imagine poor Eleanor Tilney in the late 18th century, alone in a grand house without female companionship, having no-one to talk to and forced to live a constricted life. No amount of walking, charity work, practicing the piano, or overseeing the household would have made up for her boredom, and thus Catherine Morland’s companionship was so welcome.

Manor House (2002), dressing Lady Olliff-Cooper. Image @PBS

In Regency House Party (the 2004 mini-series), the modern women who portrayed Regency ladies chafed under the strict rules of protocol, forced chaperonage, and daily tedium. A lady’s routine did not much improve during the Edwardian era, although towards the end of this period changing one’s gown for afternoon tea became obsolete.

Tea gown, circa 1908. Image @Vintage Textiles

In Manor House, the 2002 mini-series set in the Edwardian era, Lady Olliff-Cooper’s spinster sister, the lowest-ranking member of the family, had so little to do and so little say in how she could spend her time, that Avril Anson (who in real life is a professor) left the series for a few episodes to maintain her sanity.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) eye their rival before dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Lady Olliff-Cooper … [needed] to change her clothes five or six times a day. And very few of these dresses would be what today we’d call practical. Not only did each meal carry its own dress code, but if she needed to receive a visitor, pay a call or go riding, she’d have to change both her clothes and often her hairstyle as well.” Manor House, clothes

Anna Olliff-Cooper, who portrayed the lady of the house in Manor House, spent an enormous amount of her day changing into new gowns and having her hair dressed. She would stand passively as her maid did all the work. Anna noted how constricting the dresses were, and cried as she described how the tight sleeves of her gowns prevented her from raising her arms above her shoulders or from closely hugging her eleven-year old son. Even the fashions conspired to keep a women passive!

The Dinner Party, 1911, Jules Alexandre Grun

After they had finished their cigars and port, the gentlemen were obligated to rejoin the ladies for cards or music, or both, to while away the evening. The Duke’s behavior in Downton Abbey was egregious, for instead of joining the group for the rest of the evening, he went to bed early. The house party would stay up until 10:30 or so (unless a grand ball had been arranged, and then the guests would stay up until the wee hours of the morning).

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Male conversation after dinner over port and cigars. The duke and earl have a frank conversation. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In either case, the last people in the house to retire for the night would be the servants, but their lives and schedule will be described in another post.

Look for Downton Abbey, Part One to air on PBS Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, January 9th! Once again PBS will host a twitter party! Stay tuned for details.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

End of the day at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

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Images of Downton Abbey Season 1: Credit Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

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Romola Garai as Emma

Once again PBS will host a Twitter Party during the second installment of Emma 2009. Come join me and Laurel Ann from Austenprose for a chat from 9-11 PM EST. PBS has also arranged for a Twitter Fest for those who live on the west coast. That Twitter Chat will begin at 9 PM PT and last until 11 PM. Click here for the details. Don’t forget to use the hash tag #emma_pbs! See you there.

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Miss Emma Woodhouse was a bright, articulate, privileged and beautiful young lady who possessed an unswerving sense of her lofty position in Highbury society. To some, Gwynneth Paltrow, an equally privileged woman in real life, was perfect for the role. For me, Kate Beckinsale (A&E Emma) and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) are unbeatable as Jane Austen’s favorite heroine. With PBS’s recent showing of Emma 2009, many are coming to prefer Romola Garai’s more vivacious interpretation. (Read my review here.) Regardless of which actress portrays Emma, class distinctions play a pivotal role in the plot . Today I present to you (largely in Jane Austen’s own words) the reasons why so much ado was made over who could marry whom and why a very young, single woman was given the best seat at Highbury’s tables.

Mr. Elton was presumptuous in courting Emma:

Mr. Elton’s wanting to pay his addresses to her had sunk him in her opinion. His professions and his proposals did him no service. She thought nothing of his attachment, and was insulted by his hopes. He wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her, pretended to be in love; but she was perfectly easy as to his not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for. There had been no real affection either in his language or manners. Sighs and fine words had been given in abundance; but she could hardly devise any set of expressions, or fancy any tone of voice, less allied with real love. She need not trouble herself to pity him. He only wanted to aggrandise and enrich himself; and if Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, the heiress of thirty thousand pounds, were not quite so easily obtained as he had fancied, he would soon try for Miss Somebody else with twenty, or with ten…”

Mr Elton presumes to sit between Emma and Mrs. Weston

Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family–and that the Eltons were nobody. The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but their fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself, in every other kind of consequence; and the Woodhouses had long held a high place in the consideration of the neighbourhood which Mr. Elton had first entered not two years ago, to make his way as he could, without any alliances but in trade, or any thing to recommend him to notice but his situation and his civility. – Chapter 16


Donwell Abbey

When a woman married, she took on her husband’s status. Therefore it would have made no sense for Emma to have come down in the world and married Mr. Elton, a mere vicar. For marriage material, she (and her sister) would have naturally looked towards the Knightley brothers.  Be that as it may, Emma thought of Mr Elton as “quite the gentleman himself, and without low connections; at the same time not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet. He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property;” (I, Ch.4, p.33)  After Emma’s unceremonious rejection of his suit, Mr. Elton left Highbury in a dudgeon and wound up marrying well, for his bride came with £10,000.

The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away—he had gained a woman of 10,000, or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity—the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious—the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green’s, and the party at Mrs. Brown’s—smiles and blushes rising in importance—with consciousness and agitation richly scattered—the lady had been so easily impressed—so sweetly disposed—had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.

Mr and Mrs Elton on Box Hill Emma 2009

Blake Ritson and Christina Cole as Mr and Mrs. Elton

Mr. Elton provided his wife with a respectable home and living. Augusta’s mistake was in thinking that through her marriage, she belonged to the same echelon of society as Emma. In Emma’s estimation:

[Mrs. Elton] was good enough for Mr. Elton, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury—handsome enough—to look plain, probably, by Harriet’s side. As to connection, there Emma was perfectly easy; persuaded, that after all his own vaunted claims and disdain of Harriet, he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. What she was, must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out; and setting aside the 10,000l., it did not appear that she was at all Harriet’s superior. She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol-merchant, of course, he must be called; but, as the whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, it was not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been very moderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; but Bristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father and mother had died some years ago, an uncle remained—in the law line—nothing more distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the law line; and with him the daughter had lived. Emma guessed him to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of the connection seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was very well married, to a gentleman in a great way, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was the wind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Hawkins.

Hartfield

The Coles, who made their living from trade, did not move in the same circles as Emma, but many of the people she associated with felt comfortable visiting the Coles, including the Westons and Mr. Knightley:

The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people–friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means– the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared every body for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place. The regular and best families Emma could hardly suppose they would presume to invite– neither Donwell, nor Hartfield, nor Randalls. Nothing should tempt her to go, if they did; and she regretted that her father’s known habits would be giving her refusal less meaning than she could wish. The Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them. This lesson, she very much feared, they would receive only from herself; she had little hope of Mr. Knightley, none of Mr. Weston.

But she had made up her mind how to meet this presumption so many weeks before it appeared, that when the insult came at last, it found her very differently affected. Donwell and Randalls had received their invitation, and none had come for her father and herself.

Mr. Robert Martin, yeoman farmer, made a comfortable living, but he had no social standing to speak of, at least not in Emma’s eyes:

Jefferson Hall as Robert Martin

There was no reason for Emma to associate with a young yeoman farmer and she was not expected to acknowledge him when they met in public, for they had not formally met. And he would not presume to speak to her until he received a proper  introduction.  This conversation between Emma and Harriet explains Emma’s attitude towards Mr. Martin:

Harriet: But, did you never see him? He is in Highbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through every week in his way to Kingston. He has passed you very often.”

Emma: “That may be—and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.”

The success of tradesmen and farmers meant the class distinctions were beginning to blur at this time: “Mr. Martin is not, in fact, a mere tenant “farmer” but a prosperous yeoman – an excellent catch for the portionless Harriet Smith.” (- Cathleen Meyers, Emma). In fact, Harriet recalls her two months with the Martins with fondness:

… she had spent two very happy months with [the Martins], and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place … of Mrs. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; 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; and of their having a very handsome summer-house in their garden, where some day next year they were all to drink tea:—a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold a dozen people.”

Mr. Martin worked on Mr. Knightley’s estate, and the two men saw each other frequently to conduct business, which is how Mr. Knightley came to greatly esteem the sensible young man:

I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin. He always speaks to the purpose; open, straight forward, and very well judging. He told me every thing; his circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doing in the event of his marriage. He is an excellent young man, both as son and brother. I had no hesitation in advising him to marry. He proved to me that he could afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced he could not do better. I praised the fair lady too, and altogether sent him away very happy.

Once Harriet married Robert Martin, she and Emma would no longer travel in the same social circles. But, as Mr. Knightley rightly pointed out,  Mr. Martin was an excellent catch for Harriet, the natural daughter of somebody. When Mr. Knightley learns that Harriet (through Emma’s persuasion) had rejected Mr. Martin’s proposal of marriage, he exclaimed:

Louise Dyland as Harriet and Romola Garai as Emma read a riddle

“No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith’s claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connexion for him. I felt, that as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her having that sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all on her side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck.

Miss Bates and  Mrs. Bates, although well respected, had no money to speak of:

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates

The penniless widows of Vicars led a hard-scrabble life, for there were no pensions. As a former Vicar’s wife, Mrs. Bates still had some social standing in the community, retaining her position in the second tier of society. But she and her daughter needed to live economically and they depended on charity from friends to help stretch their meager income. After moving from the comfortable vicarage house, they settled into spare rooms above a shop in the center of town.

After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.

Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.

Mr. Weston’s social position was inferior to his son, Frank’s:

Robert Bathurst as Mr. Weston

Mr. Weston, a former military man, married up. His first wife assumed his social standing and came down in the world. This brought conflict to their short marriage. After the first Mrs. Weston died, her son,  Frank, was raised by his rich uncle and his wife, the Churchills. It was quite common at the time for childless families to adopt someone else’s child (this happened with Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, who took on the name of his adopted family – Knight), and thus Frank’s social position rose above his father’s. It was not inconceivable or far fetched that Emma would set her eyes in his direction. The adoption meant that Frank was in line to inherit Enscombe, which meant that his most pressing duty lay towards the ailing Mrs. Churchill, who was in control of Frank’s purse strings and her will. Had Mrs. Churchill known of Frank’s secret engagement to Jane Fairfax, a woman with no marriage portion or prospects, she would have been seriously displeased.

Mr. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family, which for the last two or three generations had been rising into gentility and property. He had received a good education, but on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged; and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances of his military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill, of a great Yorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love with him, nobody was surprized except her brother and his wife, who had never seen him, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connection would offend.

Miss Churchill, however, being of age, and with the full command of her fortune—though her fortune bore no proportion to the family-estate—was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness. Mrs. Weston ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think every thing due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him; but though she had one sort of spirit, she had not the best. She had resolution enough to pursue her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe: she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston, and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill

Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years’ marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved. The boy had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of his mother’s, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of the little Frank soon after her decease. Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only his own comfort to seek and his own situation to improve as he could.

A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted the militia and engaged in trade, having brothers already established in a good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening. It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had still a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away. He had, by that time, realized an easy competence—enough to secure the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for—enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition.

Jane Fairfax’s future as governess was tenuous at best:

Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax

Well educated and raised in comfort by the Campbell’s, Jane’s only hope of making her way in the world was as a governess. Her position in society would have been untenable, as Jane Austen described: “With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace, and hope, to penance and mortification forever.”  Read more about the position of governess in my post,  The Governess in the Age of Jane Austen at this link. The following conversation between Mrs. Elton and Jane describes her predicament:

“I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do.”

“Something that would do!” repeated Mrs. Elton. “Aye, that may suit your humble ideas of yourself;—I know what a modest creature you are; but it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with any thing that may offer, any inferior, commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life.”

“You are very obliging; but as to all that, I am very indifferent; it would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison. A gentleman’s family is all that I should condition for.”

“I know you, I know you; you would take up with any thing; but I shall be a little more nice, and I am sure the good Campbells will be quite on my side; with your superior talents, you have a right to move in the first circle. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you chose;—that is—I do not know—if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play;—yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what you chose;—and you must and shall be delightfully, honourably and comfortably settled before the Campbells or I have any rest.”

“You may well class the delight, the honour, and the comfort of such a situation together,” said Jane, “they are pretty sure to be equal; however, I am very serious in not wishing any thing to be attempted at present for me. I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mrs. Elton, I am obliged to any body who feels for me, but I am quite serious in wishing nothing to be done till the summer.

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller as Emma and Mr. Knightley

Highbury was a small, circumscribed town, and Emma’s choices for a mate were extremely limited. It is with no wonder (and quite a bit of satisfaction) that she came to recognize her feelings for Mr. Knightley. With her marriage to him and his willingness to move to Hartfield, her social situation scarcely changed at all.

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