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Archive for the ‘Northanger Abbey’ Category

In Austen’s youth, sentimental romances and sensational Gothic novels full of dramatized heroines, dark towers and dungeons, and dangerous male villains became popular. These included novels like Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline (1788), which some believe is echoed in Austen’s early writings, and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), which Austen later referenced in Northanger Abbey in its famous discussion of novels.

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe. Image: British Library.

These sensationalized novels were widely scorned by polite society and considered indecent because they were thought to promote sinful thoughts and immoral behavior. Lord Francis Jeffrey is quoted as saying the following about British fiction during the mid to late eighteenth century:

A greater mass of trash and rubbish never disgraced the press of any country than the ordinary novels that filled and supported the circulating library down nearly to the time of Miss Edgeworth’s first appearance… There had been Miss Burney’s Evelina and Cecilia…But the staple of our novel market was beyond imagination despicable, and had consequently sunk and degraded the whole department of literature of which it had usurped the name.

Lord Francis Jeffrey, Essays, 1853.

Indeed, much of the British literary world agreed. Samuel Johnson commented on the moral obligation of fiction writers to instruct the minds of young readers: “These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life” (Johnson, Rambler No. 4).

Are They All Horrid?

So just what were these novels – this “greater mass of trash and rubbish” – that were so degrading to the public? In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe—a character we quickly learn is not the best guide or role model for any young person—lists them right out for us!

Isabella: “Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

Catherine: “Have you, indeed! How glad I am! — What are they all?”

Isabella: “I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

Catherine: “Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”

Isabella: “Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones), Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Yes, that’s right. Austen gives us, her readers, the exact names of these “horrid” novels that we should definitely read avoid. But what exactly made the books on Isabella’s must-read list so deliciously “horrid”? Let’s find out!

Each of these books is now widely available online as e-texts, on e-readers, and even in print. Thanks to publishers such as Valencourt Books, we have access to these “scandalous” novels, giving them—and their genre—a proper place in the literary canon (and allowing us to more fully understand Austen’s work on Northanger Abbey).

The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) by Eliza Parsons

The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons (1793) is the novel that has been printed and reprinted the most, as it is now considered an important literary work from Austen’s day and a “highly readable” Gothic novel of its time.

No longer to be regarded as a footnote to the literary history of Jane Austen’s Northanger septet, Eliza Parsons’s Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) now secures its proper place as both a work of historical importance and a highly readable Gothic novel in its own right with this fine edition. Diane Long Hoeveler’s thoughtful introduction opens new perspectives on Parsons’s achievement in the field of what might be called “international” Gothic in her creation of an “ideologically bifurcated female Gothic, part liberal and part conservative” in its political outlook. This new edition both supplants earlier editions of this pivotal Gothic and tells us much about how the Gothic novel evolved in the late 1790s as an historical reflector of the fears, beliefs, and prejudices of  a revolutionary, yet reactionary, era.

-Frederick S. Frank, Professor Emeritus of English, Allegheny College, and author of The First Gothics, Valancourtbooks.com

Book Description: Matilda Weimar flees her lecherous and incestuous uncle and seeks refuge in the ancient Castle of Wolfenbach. Among the castle’s abandoned chambers, Matilda will discover the horrifying mystery of the missing Countess of Wolfenbach. But when her uncle tracks her down, can she escape his despicable intentions?

A sampling of covers for The Castle of Wolfenbach.

One of the seven “horrid novels” named in Jane Austen’s Northanger AbbeyThe Castle of Wolfenbach is perhaps the most important of the early Gothic novels, predating both The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk.

Clermont (1798) by Regina Maria Roche

Book Description: Clermont is the story of Madeline, a porcelain doll of a Gothic heroine, who lives in seclusion from society with her father, Clermont, whose past is shrouded in mystery. One stormy night, their solitude is interrupted by a benighted traveller, a Countess who turns out to be a friend from Clermont’s past.

Madeline goes to live with the Countess to receive her education, but her new idyllic life soon turns into a shocking nightmare. Ruffians attack the gentle Countess, and Madeline is assaulted in a gloomy crypt. And to make matters worse, a sinister stranger appears, threatening to reveal the bloody truth of Clermont’s past unless Madeline marries him. Can she avoid the snares of her wily pursuers, solve the mystery of her father’s past, and win the love of her dear De Sevignie?

The Mysterious Warning (1796) by Eliza Parsons

Book Description: The good old Count Renaud is dead, and his will makes the degenerate Rhodophil his heir, disinheriting his other son Ferdinand, who has married against his father’s wishes. Rhodophil promises to share his new riches with his younger brother and his wife Claudina, but Ferdinand hears a mysterious voice from beyond the grave, warning him to flee his brother and his wife to save himself from sin and death!

Ferdinand obeys the supernatural warning and sets out to find fortune and adventure. In the course of his quest he will encounter a recluse in a ruined castle with a horrible secret, find himself captured and imprisoned by the Turkish army, and encounter one of Gothic literature’s most depraved female characters, the monstrous Fatima. And if he survives all these dangers, Ferdinand must return to Renaud Castle to solve the mystery of the ghostly voice and uncover the terrible truth about his wife and his brother!

The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by Lawrence Flammenberg

Book Description: “The hurricane was howling, the hailstones beating against windows, the hoarse croaking of the raven bidding adieu to autumn, and the weather-cock’s dismal creaking joined with the mournful dirge of the solitary owl…”

The Necromancer consists of a series of interconnected stories, all centering on the enigmatic figure of Volkert the Necromancer. Filled with murder, ghosts, and dark magic, and featuring a delirious and dizzying plot that almost defies comprehension, The Necromancer is one of the strangest horror novels ever written.

One of the earliest Gothic bestsellers, The Necromancer was first published in 1794, and after more than two centuries still retains the power to thrill and fascinate readers.

The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath

Book Description: Seduced and betrayed by a rake, Julie de Rubine lives in seclusion with her infant son, Enrîco. One day, their calm retirement is interrupted by the Marchese de Montferrat, who promises to provide for Julie and her son if she agrees to care for an unfortunate orphan, Laurette, whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Under the assumed name of Madame Chamont, Julie raises the two children, whose youthful friendship eventually blossoms into love.

As Laurette matures, she resolves to learn the identity of her real parents. Her only clues are a painted miniature of a beautiful lady and the whisperings of a sinister monk, who warns her to avoid the Marchese de Montferrat. But when Julie is kidnapped by banditti and Laurette is taken to the gloomy castle of the lascivious Marchese, will she be able to uncover the truth and marry her beloved Enrîco, or will she fall victim to the lustful Montferrat?

The rarest of the seven “horrid novels,” Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) is indebted to Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of the Abbey (1796) but possesses a charm and fascination all its own. 

Horrid Mysteries (1796) by Carl Grosse

Book description: A bizarre work whose labyrinthine plot defies summary, Horrid Mysteries (1796) recounts the experiences of Don Carlos and his friend, the Marquis of G******, who become entangled in the web of a secret society bent on world domination. As the heroes flee from place to place across Europe, the agents of this dark confederacy, seemingly possessed of supernatural powers, are always at their heels—and death lies around every corner!

Unavailable for nearly 50 years, this unabashedly lurid Gothic novel written by an enigmatic German who styled himself the “Marquis of Grosse” and “Marquis of Pharnusia” returns to print at last as the seventh and final reissue in Valancourt’s series of the rare Gothic novels mentioned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Gothic Novels and Jane Austen

For more on this topic, our own Tony Grant has also written about Austen’s influences and her work on Northanger Abbey in his article, Netley Abbey and the Gothic. In his article, Tony also references an article by John Mullan on the fascinating topic of Gothic literature that is well worth your time: The Origins of the Gothic.

In his Rambler No. 4, Johnson said that the “task” of “present writers” is to write books that “serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life” so that “nothing indecent” should be set in front of the eyes of young men and women.

As sensational, Gothic novels were being written, other authors were at the same time attempting to raise the bar and write novels that were both entertaining and instructive. Many of the books in each of these genres are novels with which Austen herself was familiar or, in many cases, would have read. Next month, I’ll be talking about didactic fiction—writing that was meant to provide positive role models and good morals—and the influence it had on Austen’s writing.


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

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Northanger Abbey, Vol 2, Chapter XIII + XIV

Inquiring readers, 

In Volume Two, Chapters 13 & 14, the emotional drama that Eleanor Tilney and Catherine Morland share almost explodes from its pages. After discovering that Catherine Morland was not the great heiress he thought her to be, General Tilney ordered his daughter, Eleanor, to oust Catherine from Northanger Abbey. Heretofore, Jane Austen has depicted Eleanor as a quiet, genteel, and deferential young lady, who had not been given much of a center stage. Now Austen reveals us to her inner thoughts and emotions. Catherine, as usual, continues to be an open and wide-eyed innocent.

Image of Lismore Castle in a setting of trees and fields.

Lismore Castle, Ireland, County Waterford served as Northanger Abbey in the 2007 film of the same name, Wikimedia Commons. Image taken by Ingo Mehling, 18 August, 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0

Eleanor’s Reluctant Message

“Eleanor, stood there. Catherine’s spirits, however, were tranquillized but for an instant, for Eleanor’s cheeks were pale, and her manner greatly agitated. Though evidently intending to come in, it seemed an effort to enter the room, and a still greater to speak when there. Catherine, supposing some uneasiness on Captain Tilney’s account, could only express her concern by silent attention, obliged her to be seated, rubbed her temples with lavender-water, and hung over her with affectionate solicitude. “My dear Catherine, you must not — you must not indeed — ” were Eleanor’s first connected words. “I am quite well. This kindness distracts me — I cannot bear it — I come to you on such an errand!”

“Errand! –to me!”

“How shall I tell you! — Oh! how shall I tell you!” 

The above scene is more about Eleanor’s mortification at being the messenger of bad tidings than Catherine Morland’s reaction, which was concern for another, not herself. Eleanor knew the consequences of her angry’s father’s actions and is devastated. Catherine, perplexed, wonders about the reason for her departure. 

A new idea now darted into Catherine’s mind, and turning as pale as her friend, she exclaimed, “‘Tis a messenger from Woodston!”

Catherine’s only concern is for Henry Tilney. Woodston is his residence, about 20 miles away from the Abbey.

“You are mistaken, indeed,” returned Eleanor, looking at her most compassionately — “it is no one from Woodston. It is my father himself.” 

Eleanor could not lie. Indeed, she could not implicate her brother, who had no part in this deception. 

Her voice faltered, and her eyes were turned to the ground as she mentioned his name. His unlooked-for return was enough in itself to make Catherine’s heart sink, and for a few moments she hardly supposed there were anything worse to be told. 

Eleanor bravely continues, telling Catherine of her part as an unwilling messenger. She also reveals how much Catherine’s friendship means to her:

She  [Catherine] said nothing; and Eleanor, endeavoring to collect herself and speak with firmness, but with eyes still cast down, soon went on. “You are too good, I am sure, to think the worse of me for the part I am obliged to perform. I am indeed a most unwilling messenger. After what has so lately passed, so lately been settled between us — how joyfully, how thankfully on my side! — as to your continuing here as I hoped for many, many weeks longer, how can I tell you that your kindness is not to be accepted — and that the happiness your company has hitherto given us is to be repaid by — but I must not trust myself with words. My dear Catherine, we are to part. My father has recollected an engagement that takes our whole family away on Monday. We are going to Lord Longtown’s, near Hereford, for a fortnight. Explanation and apology are equally impossible. I cannot attempt either.”

Eleanor-Catherine-closeup-Tomson

Detail of Catherine (L) and Eleanor (R), Hugh Tomson drawing, 1897, entitled “General Tilney was Pacing the Drawing Room.”

Although the General’s excuse was a lie, poor Eleanor was forced to give it. She could not hide her shame. Anything Eleanor said between the lines escaped Catherine, who must have known that Lord Longtown could not be ignored.

“My dear Eleanor,” cried Catherine, suppressing her feelings as well as she could, “do not be so distressed. A second engagement must give way to a first. I am very, very sorry we are to part – so soon, and so suddenly too; but I am not offended, indeed I am not. I can finish my visit here, you know, at any time; or I hope you will come to me. Can you, when you return from this lord’s, come to Fullerton?”

Eleanor answers:

“It will not be in my power, Catherine.”

This sentence illustrates Eleanor’s story in a nutshell – she has no power and is entirely ruled by her father. Her oldest brother is largely absent. Henry is the only male in her family who shows her respect and deference, but she still must depend on him to escort her in public. 

Catherine, Eleanor, and Henry had forged a close relationship because of their genuine like for each other. The brother and sister loved Catherine for her guileless utterances. She in turn admired them for the attention they paid her, which she found flattering. She trusted them like an eager puppy and reveled in their company, especially Henry’s, with whom she had fallen in love. 

Astounded by Eleanor’s answer, she swallows her disappointment, but still can’t understand why she must leave the Abbey.

“Come when you can, then.” —

Eleanor made no answer; and Catherine’s thoughts recurring to something more directly interesting, she added, thinking aloud, “Monday — so soon as Monday; — and you all go. Well, I am certain of — I shall be able to take leave, however. I need not go till just before you do, you know. Do not be distressed, Eleanor, I can go on Monday very well. My father and mother’s having no notice of it is of very little consequence. The General will send a servant with me, I dare say, half the way — and then I shall soon be at Salisbury, and then I am only nine miles from home.”

Her sweet speech hurt Eleanor more than harsh words ever could. Eleanor must have steeled herself before answering her friend. Someone new to reading Jane Austen’s novels or who has recently been introduced to the Regency Era with all its strict customs, mores, and rules of etiquette could only guess why Eleanor was so distressed by her father’s behavior. The truth was that no genteel Regency lady of Catherine’s station was allowed by her family to travel as an unescorted passenger in a public coach. 

“Ah, Catherine! were it settled so, it would be somewhat less intolerable, though in such common attentions you would have received but half what you ought. But — how can I tell you? — tomorrow morning is fixed for your leaving us, and not even the hour is left to your choice; the very carriage is ordered, and will be here at seven o’clock, and no servant will be offered you.”

The General’s edict was dangerous and indefensible. Both Eleanor and Catherine understood the full import of the message. Catherine was to be banished without even the most common decency or courtesy, alone, and without funds – her nightmare has come true, except she was not to be abducted but evicted.

carriage-Northanger Abbey-HThompson-Sm (3)

Catherine’s nightmare: Three villains force her into a carriage. Hugh Tomson, 1897. Catherine’s imagination takes her to Gothic levels, but the danger of a single woman in a public carriage was real.

Catherine sat down, breathless and speechless. “I could hardly believe my senses, when I heard it; — and no displeasure, no resentment that you can feel at this moment, however justly great, can be more than I myself — but I must not talk of what I felt. Oh! that I could suggest anything in extenuation! Good God! what will your father and mother say! After courting you from the protection of real friends to this — almost double distance from your home, to have you driven out of the house, without the considerations even of decent civility! Dear, dear Catherine, in being the bearer of such a message, I seem guilty myself of all its insult; yet, I trust you will acquit me, for you must have been long enough in this house to see that I am but a nominal mistress of it, that my real power is nothing.”

Catherine searches for an answer:

“Have I offended the General?” said Catherine in a faltering voice.

Eleanor can give no good excuse:

“Alas! for my feelings as a daughter, all that I know, all that I answer for, is that you can have given him no just cause of offence. He certainly is greatly, very greatly discomposed; I have seldom seen him more so. His temper is not happy, and something has now occurred to ruffle it in an uncommon degree; some disappointment, some vexation, which just at this moment seems important, but which I can hardly suppose you to have any concern in, for how is it possible?”

Catherine still grasps for excuses and is still sorry for offending the General. She is only sad that he had not recalled his assignation with Lord Longtown earlier, so that she could have written to her parents for funds and an escort. 

Eleanor responds:

“I hope, I earnestly hope, that to your real safety it will be of none; but to everything else it is of the greatest consequence: to comfort, appearance, propriety, to your family, to the world. Were your friends, the Allens, still in Bath, you might go to them with comparative ease; a few hours would take you there; but a journey of seventy miles, to be taken post by you, at your age, alone, unattended!”

“Oh, the journey is nothing. Do not think about that. And if we are to part, a few hours sooner or later, you know, makes no difference. I can be ready by seven. Let me be called in time.” Eleanor saw that she wished to be alone; and believing it better for each that they should avoid any further conversation, now left her with “I shall see you in the morning.”

Catherine must have had an accurate idea of her journey’s long distance and its travails. (Northanger Abbey is over twice the distance from her home than the thirty mile journey with the Allens to Bath.) She also must have known that the General’s order was grossly uncivil. However, she was given no choice as to the time and day she was to depart, or of her mode of travel, and thus, stripped of choice, she spent a sleepless night. 

As good as her word, Catherine was ready early.

Soon after six Eleanor entered her room, eager to show attention or give assistance where it was possible; but very little remained to be done. Catherine had not loitered; she was almost dressed, and her packing almost finished.” 

The silence between the two women spoke volumes. 

Very little passed between them on meeting; each found her greatest safety in silence, and few and trivial were the sentences exchanged while they remained upstairs, Catherine in busy agitation completing her dress, and Eleanor with more good-will than experience intent upon filling the trunk.” 

One can imagine the discomfort both women felt at that moment. They were quiet and deep in thought, and for the first time experienced awkwardness in each other’s company. Catherine, her appetite gone, silently reminisced how cheerful and carefree her previous breakfast in this room had been with brother and sister. 

The appearance of the carriage, a hack post chaise, brought Catherine and Eleanor back to the present. A hack post chaise was a basic hired carriage guided only by a post-boy or postillion on a lead horse. (Jennifer S. Ewing states in her JASNA article: “Olsen observes that “There is always something vaguely tacky about hack vehicles in Austen.  When she wants to convey a sense of comfortable, sophisticated travel, she uses the phrase ‘post-chaise’ or something similar.  Hackney coaches are associated with poverty, disgrace, anonymity, and disappointment…”)

Eleanor turns to her friend:

“You must write to me, Catherine,” she cried, “you must let me hear from you as soon as possible. Till I know you to be safe at home, I shall not have an hour’s comfort. For one letter, at all risks, all hazards, I must entreat. Let me have the satisfaction of knowing that you are safe at Fullerton, and have found your family well, and then, till I can ask for your correspondence as I ought to do, I will not expect more. Direct to me at Lord Longtown’s, and, I must ask it, under cover to Alice.”

Eleanor asks Catherine to send word of her safe arrival at Fullerton to someone named Alice. This person was probably her maid or a servant, as Eleanor would not have called Lord Longtown’s wife or daughter by their first names. The secrecy was necessary, for her controlling father would have the mail delivered to him before distributing the letters to his family.

Eleanor would not rest until she learned of Catherine’s safe arrival. Catherine balks at first, but then gives in – “Oh, Eleanor, I will write to you indeed.”

This gave Eleanor some comfort, but she suspected Catherine might not have had enough money left from her personal allowance to pay for the ride home. This…

proved to be exactly the case. Catherine had never thought on the subject till that moment, but, upon examining her purse, was convinced that but for this kindness of her friend, she might have been turned away from the house without even the means of getting home…”

Catherine’s artless utterances during her visit with the Tilneys must have clued Eleanor about the true state of her family’s finances, and so her father’s reason for evicting her from the Abbey was probably no surprise.

The Journey Home

Catherine was too wretched to be fearful. The journey in itself had no terrors for her; and she began it without either dreading its length or feeling its solitariness. Leaning back in one comer of the carriage, in a violent burst of tears, she was conveyed some miles beyond the walls of the abbey before she raised her head…”

During this first stage of the ride Catherine must have been alone in the carriage. Had passengers been present, she would not have burst violently into tears. Gentle ladies were taught to hold their emotions in check. While she was impulsive and naive, she also had impeccable manners.

A public coach was generally cramped and dirty. The straw on the floor was rarely changed. Passengers sought the four corners for some privacy, but some passengers in a six-seater coach were squeezed into the center, like the filling in a sandwich. 

Sandy.Lerner.Carriage.JASNA

Crammed quarters. Image of Sandy Lerner’s Part 2 video of Pen and Parsimony: Carriages in the Novels of Jane Austen. Copyright Sandy Lerner. JASNA

Watch the beginning of Part 2 of two videos from a JASNA article about riding in a public coach, by Sandy Lerner .

The distance between Fullerton and Northanger Abbey was seventy miles. Carriages during that time could go as fast as 6-7 miles per hour on a post road. They often slowed down significantly on secondary roads, which were rutted after heavy rains and badly maintained. Austen writes:

…”she traveled on for about eleven hours without accident or alarm, and between six and seven o’clock in the evening found herself entering Fullerton.” 

The journey lasted from ten to eleven hours, which meant that the horses reached speeds of up to 7 miles per hour. The added time was due to the stops in stages when fresh horses were exchanged with spent horses. Horses could pull a carriage for an average from 15 to 20 miles at most before needing to stop. The exchanges were rapid, and took as little as five minutes per stop (think of the speed of NASCAR pit stops – Regina Jeffers). 

…after the first stage she had been indebted to the post-masters for the names of the places which were then to conduct her to it; so great had been her ignorance of her route. She met with nothing, however, to distress or frighten her. Her youth, civil manners, and liberal pay procured her all the attention that a traveller like herself could require; and stopping only to change horses…”

Of the journey, Jane writes that “the hours passed away, and her journey advanced much faster than she looked for”, but Catherine had not eaten since breakfast, which ended around 7 AM. She must have been hungry and exhausted when the coach stopped in Fullerton. Her spirits lifted, however, when she was met with joy by her family and she reveled in their unconditional love.

The chaise of a traveller being a rare sight in Fullerton, the whole family were immediately at the window; and to have it stop at the sweep-gate was a pleasure to brighten every eye and occupy every fancy — a pleasure quite unlooked for by all but the two youngest children, a boy and girl of six and four years old, who expected a brother or sister in every carriage…”

“…Her father, mother, Sarah, George, and Harriet, all assembled at the door to welcome her with affectionate eagerness, was a sight to awaken the best feelings of Catherine’s heart; and in the embrace of each, as she stepped from the carriage, she found herself soothed beyond anything that she had believed possible. So surrounded, so caressed, she was even happy!” 

This heartwarming homecoming was the balm Catherine needed after such a heartsore night and day, but after the homecoming, reality set in and the family noticed her pale looks:

In the joyfulness of family love everything for a short time was subdued, and the pleasure of seeing her, leaving them at first little leisure for calm curiosity, they were all seated round the tea-table, which Mrs. Morland had hurried for the comfort of the poor traveller, whose pale and jaded looks soon caught her notice, before any inquiry so direct as to demand a positive answer was addressed to her.”

As Catherine spoke for half an hour, her family’s distress on her behalf increased.

…but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult not to be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned. Without suffering any romantic alarm, in the consideration of their daughter’s long and lonely journey, Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel that it might have been productive of much unpleasantness to her; that it was what they could never have voluntarily suffered; and that, in forcing her on such a measure, General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor feelingly — neither as a gentleman nor as a parent. Why he had done it, what could have provoked him to such a breach of hospitality, and so suddenly turned all his partial regard for their daughter into actual ill will…”

Mrs Morland was struck by General Tilney’s actions of sending her away without even a servant to escort her, and the needless trouble he caused her daughter. Not only could travel be dangerous during this era, especially at night when highwaymen roamed (recall the earlier Hugh Thomson image), or in the bitter cold of winter, but the journey might be delayed due to a broken wagon wheel, a lame horse, or impassable roads, rivers, or streams. Mrs Morland, ever the positive thinker, concludes that this experience was a character builder for her daughter.

“Well,” continued her philosophic mother, “I am glad I did not know of your journey at the time; but now it is over, perhaps there is no great harm done. It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets.”

Catherine Keeps her Promise and Writes a Letter

Catherine reproached herself for coolly saying goodbye to Eleanor. The funds she gave her provided for a safe journey instead of one that was fraught with danger. If she had run out of the ability to pay, she might have been stranded miles from home without the means to contact her family.

According to Deborah Barnum, author of the Jane Austen in Vermont blog, the estimated cost of a hired post-chaise in 1800 was “about £1 / mile [i.e @1 shilling / horse / mile, to include the postillion.]”  Eleanor’s gift was truly generous when one considers that Jane Austen’s annual allowance for personal purchases (which included gifts) was around £ 20 per year. Cassandra’s yearly income from the investments she made with the  £1,000 that Tom Fowler bequeathed to her was around  £35 (Lucy Worsley). The sisters’ combined income could not have paid for this expensive journey. 

The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced was enclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wishes of a most affectionate heart.”

Mrs Morland observed how sadly out of luck Catherine had been in making friends during her ventures in Bath and at the Abbey, and says ”the next new friends you make I hope will be better worth keeping.”

Catherine coloured as she warmly answered, “No friend can be better worth keeping than Eleanor.”

Eleanor, who had largely been invisible before this drama, became a three-dimensional character in these two chapters. She reacted with real feeling and emotion when her father ordered her to remove Catherine from the Abbey, and when she had to put the plan in motion, but when Austen sped the novel to its conclusion, she was placed in the background again. 

General Tilney’s behavior so disgusted his son Henry that it irrevocably altered their relationship. Henry hurried to Fullerton to apologize to Catherine and ask for her hand in marriage. She was just the sweet acquiescent girl he’d been searching for as his wife.

Additional Resources

Jane Austen Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson, 2014.Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, US. London, UK. 363 pp.

Worsley, Lucy.Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, 2017. St. Martin’s Press, 1st. Ed. NY

Jane Austen’s World, Tagged with royal mail coaches

Jerry Abershaw, Highwayman, Tony Grant

Regina Jeffers: Every Woman Dreams: Traveling by Coach During the Regency, an Overview

Susanna Ives’ Floating World: Lost in the Regency Mail

As the Wheel Turns: Horse-Drawn Vehicles in Jane Austen’s Novels » JASNA

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Inquiring readers: Victoria Grossack, FCAS, the author of this piece and an actuary, sent this highly interesting article about Jane Austen and mathematics, a first topic for this blog. Enjoy!

Janeites esteem Jane Austen as a literary genius. Her characters are exquisitely drawn and her dialogue can be wickedly funny. She also uses the stream of consciousness technique before it became popular. All devotees know her novels are classics.

What about Austen as a mathematician, however? She never promotes herself in this regard. Like most female authors in her day, she doesn’t promote herself at all, not even putting her name on her novels – but in her writing, her mathematical abilities are evident. In fact, she uses math in a way that would make most actuaries proud. (Note: Actuaries are specialized mathematicians who generally work for insurance companies, which is relevant to some of the math Austen uses.)


Monetary Sums, Large and Small

Jane Austen and almost all of her characters are aware of the value of money, which would be true of most mathematicians (and certainly all actuaries). In fact, money is often a motivator for her characters’ choices in her novels. The young ladies often need to marry so they will have husbands to support them, while the single gentlemen are more attracted to single young ladies when they have significant dowries. Mr. Darcy’s income of £10,000 per annum makes him more handsome in Pride & Prejudice, while Mr. Wickham only courts Mary King after she inherits £10,000. Mr. Collins’s financial situation even wins him the hand of Charlotte Lucas:

Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 22)”

Image of the front and back of a half guinea

Image of a half guinea in the time of George III

However, Austen’s comprehension goes well beyond large, round sums and the necessity of an income. Mansfield Park has a lovely passage in which monetary gifts to William Price are discussed by his two aunts, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram.

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only £10.”

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his 3 pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 31)”

The amount of Mrs. Norris’s gift to William Price is never mentioned in Mansfield Park, but Jane Austen told her family (A Memoir of Jane Austen) that Mrs. Norris gave her nephew only one pound. Besides being a perfect contrast of the miserly Mrs. Norris versus her much more generous sister, the dialogue shows how well Austen understood the importance of relatively small sums, and how much £10 would mean to a midshipman in William Price’s position.

The Distress of Debt

Another reason for seeking a marriage settlement is to deal with debt. Several of the gentlemen (Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility, and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice) marry to escape debt, making life choices that they would have preferred not to make.

However, marriage is not the only solution to debt. Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, begins with the fact that the baronet, Sir Walter Elliot, has been living beyond his means and needs to “retrench” in order to regain solvency. As he is one of those people who is really bad at managing money, Austen comes up with the best method that will save him money: 

“Quit Kellynch Hall.” The hint was immediately taken up by Mr. Shepherd, whose interest was involved in the reality of Sir Walter’s retrenching, and who was perfectly persuaded that nothing would be done without a change of abode. (Persuasion, Chapter 2)

This change of abode is critical to the plot of Persuasion. It’s also sound business advice. 

Some readers may object that the examples given so far only prove that Austen had a mercenary side and do not demonstrate her understanding of mathematics. So let’s move on to other passages involving annuities and livings. These also concern money, but the math is more challenging.

Annuities and Livings

Annuities are insurance contracts that provide a fixed income stream, often for a person’s remaining lifetime. An annuity is a series of payments; these days annuities are often used as a way to pay out retirement, or are awarded in lieu of some lottery sum.

Life expancy from 1770 to 20018 of people from Oceania, Europe, Americas, Asia, World, Africa

Life expectancy over time

Now, annuities, when used by life insurance companies and pension funds, are fairly sure things because they can rely on expected values, i.e., mortality tables. In other words, life insurance companies and pension funds know approximately when their annuitants will die, on average. These organizations can manage because they work with large pools of people. Each annuitant can land anywhere on a distribution, but on average, given enough customers, an insurance company can have confidence in its ability to pay annuities.

However, if you are just one individual promising an annuity to just one other individual, you cannot rely on averages, because you can land anywhere on a distribution. It’s like throwing a pair of dice: on average, they will sum to 7, but you can roll anything from 2 to 12, and the probability of rolling something besides the mean is pretty good.  

So, that’s the underlying math. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen describes the dilemma a couple is facing when debating whether or not to promise an annuity to Mr. John Dashwood’s widowed stepmother. This sort of annuity would have to be guaranteed by them; they would not be in the position of a life insurance company that can have confidence in averages. Here are some of the remarks made by Fanny Dashwood to her husband, Mr. John Dashwood:

“… if you observe, people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. … It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities, that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for all the world.” (Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 2)

Fanny Dashwood’s speech demonstrates her meanness, but Jane Austen has also demonstrated her sophisticated understanding of the uncertainty associated with an annuity.

Let’s move on to livings. A living is the salary of a clergyman, a fixed number of pounds, associated with fulfilling the duties of a particular parish, sometimes paid in kind instead of cash. Austen, daughter and sister of several clergymen, understood the importance of livings.

Livings are critical to the characters in Pride & Prejudice and in Mansfield Park. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen gives real insight into the livings market, when a living for a small parish is being given by Colonel Brandon to Mr. Edward Ferrars. The discussion below takes place between Mr. John Dashwood and John’s half-sister, Elinor.

Really!—Well, this is very astonishing!—no relationship!—no connection between them!—and now that livings fetch such a price!—what was the value of this?”

“About two hundred a year.”

“Very well—and for the next presentation to a living of that value—supposing the late incumbent to have been old and sickly, and likely to vacate it soon—he might have got I dare say—fourteen hundred pounds. And how came he not to have settled that matter before this person’s death? Now, indeed it would be too late to sell it, but a man of Colonel Brandon’s sense! I wonder he should be so improvident in a point of such common, such natural, concern!” (Sense & Sensibility, Volume III, Chapter 41)

This shows Austen’s deep understanding of the mathematics of the livings market – as well as her talent to explain the situation clearly and to use that situation for effectively displaying the personalities of her characters.

Insistence on Accuracy

Austen’s mathematical talent is visible in matters, such as her understanding of chance in cards and her calculation of distances in journeys. She does not always go into these areas in depth, but they serve as reliable backgrounds for some of her scenes.  

Gold pocket watch opened, with cover and numerals inside

Halsted Pocket Watch

Furthermore, Austen is aware – as are most mathematicians – that a significant proportion of the population is not especially good in mathematics, and that their calculations and estimations should not be relied upon. The following dialogue takes place in Mansfield Park, between the characters Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram:

I am really not tired, which I almost wonder at; for we must have walked at least a mile in this wood. Do not you think we have?”

“Not half a mile,” was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness. … “We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his watch. “Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

As the passage above was written more than two hundred years ago, we’ll skip over the lack of political correctness. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that nearly every mathematician (or actuary) has to insist on using reasonable data and accurate calculations. Moreover, most mathematically inclined persons will review calculations, even their own, because mistakes are so easy to make.

Testing Assumptions for Reasonability

Just as important as data and accurate reckoning are the underlying assumptions. Mathematicians, when creating scenarios and simulations, always need to determine whether their assumptions are reasonable. Something similar comes up in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland she has allowed her imagination to run away with her.

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? … Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. … Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 24)

Austen insisted on making stories out of the probable rather than what was wild and fanciful. She always keeps her assumptions grounded in reality.

Proxy variables

My favorite example of Austen’s display of mathematical ability is when she uses a proxy variable. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of a proxy variable: “In statistics, a proxy or proxy variable is a variable that is not in itself directly relevant, but that serves in place of an unobservable or immeasurable variable. In order for a variable to be a good proxy, it must have a close correlation, not necessarily linear, with the variable of interest.”

In Emma, the following dialogue takes place between Mrs. Elton, the local vicar’s new bride, who recently arrived from Maple Grove, and Jane Fairfax, who happens to be the best educated of all of Austen’s heroines:

Photograph of the front of a modest stone building

Former National School, 1833, Gloucestershire.

“I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”

“Your parish there was small,” said Jane.

“Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”

“But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.” (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 16)

The number of children in the school serves as a proxy variable for the size of the parish. It is a perfect example of a proxy variable.

Family Connections

As we have seen, Jane Austen repeatedly shows her understanding of mathematics. The case, in my opinion, is proved, but there is additional circumstantial evidence. Mathematical talent often runs in families. Two of Jane’s brothers became admirals in the Royal Navy; in fact, the brother closest to her in age, Sir Francis Austen, rose to become Admiral of the Fleet. They could not have achieved these positions without strong abilities in mathematics. (Note: my own brother is an actuary.) 

Black and white image of Jane Austen's sailor brother

Sir Francis Austen

Jane Austen never used the term actuary, even though actuaries existed when she lived. Of course, she was writing about romance in country villages and not about insurance companies. In her six finished novels, she only uses the word mathematician on one occasion. This paragraph takes place in Emma, when Emma has witnessed an event – Mr. Frank Churchill’s rescue of Harriet Smith from a threatening mob – which she hopes will lead to romance:

Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?—How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!—especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made. (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3)

Austen’s use of the word mathematician in this passage indicates she probably had some familiarity with people who could calculate. 

Jane Austen writes both intelligently and intelligibly on many topics associated with mathematics. I do not think I am being an imaginist when I maintain that this literary genius of the early nineteenth century had a profound understanding of mathematics.

About the Author:

Photo of the author

Author, Victoria Grossack

Victoria Grossack is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and has worked for companies such as Folksamerica Reinsurance and Zurich Financial Services; she currently supplies materials for the Actuarial Bookstore. She also writes novels celebrating birds, Greek mythology, and Jane Austen. Her Jane Austen-based novels include: The Meryton Murders, The Highbury Murders, The Mansfield Park Murders and Mrs. Bennet’s Advice to Young Ladies. Her novels can be found at Amazon.

Citations:

Lodge, David, “The best stream of consciousness novels,” The Guardian, January 20, 2009.

Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Richard Bentley and Son, 1871.

Roser, Max, “Life Expectancy,” Our World in Data

Victoria’s Article in Actuarial Review entitled “Jane Austen, Actuary?” September 21, 2021: Click here to read it

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

________

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2021-07-03 at 7.59.29 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals in the countryside:

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

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

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

“an elegant pig in an elegant pigsty.”

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

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

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

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

Southdown Sheep-Wikimedia Commons

Southdown Sheep, Wikimedia Commons image

Working animals:

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

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

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

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

James Barenger , 1820, Pointers. Wikimedia Commons image.

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

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

Animals for food:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above,_an_Aldernay_cow;_below,_a_Westhighland_bull._Coloured_Wellcome_V0020750

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

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

Animals for transport:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other modes of transportation:

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

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

donkey cart-JA House Chawton-PhoebeZu

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

Animals as pets:

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

Pinterest board of Georgian pets

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

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

Detail of pug-Molland's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Additional resources:

Books

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

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

Online information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Matthews Project

Introduction:

Inquiring readers,

The teacher who supervised the creation of this project, Ben John Wiebracht, contacted Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World in the summer of 2020 to propose a research project his students would work on in the fall. After hearing the details, she instantly agreed to publish the finished result in a post, and to create a page for this blog to share with other teachers and students. (My apologies to Dr. Wiebracht for editing this document. I’ve placed quotations around his writing whenever I’ve made no changes.)

The project, entitled “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath,” was published on January 4, 2021. It is still attracting readers and is approaching 1,300 readers!

The Basics:

The teacher: 

Dr. Ben John Wiebracht, English teacher at Stanford Online High School, a private high school under the umbrella of Stanford University.

The class:

The class chose a senior-level elective called “Love Stories” which tracked the evolution of love stories from the classical era to the early nineteenth century. The final unit was on Northanger Abbey. (Virtual book, Little, Brown, and Company, 1903, Internet Archive). 

The students:

The article was researched, written, and designed by LiYuan Byrne, Josephine Chan, Ariana Desai, Carolyn Engargiola, Ava Giles, Macy Levin, Gage Miles, Sophia Romagnoli, Kate Snyder, Oscar Steinhardt, Lauren Stoneman, Alexandria Thomas, and Varsha Venkatram.

Image of the Adumbration class of 13 students and teacher Ben John Wiebracht.

The class and teacher.

The Article and its Inspiration (The What):

  1.  “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath.” (Posted January 4, 2021 in Jane Austen’s World.) As the title suggests, the goal of the article is to give the reader a sense of how Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey, and tourists like her would have spent their time when they visited the city.
  2. The article was based on a long-forgotten Georgian poem that Dr. Wiebracht dug out of the archives over the summer: “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” (1795), by the physician and poet John Matthews. 
    1. “The poem has a wealth of information on the amusements and absurdities of Bath, but it’s tough sledding for a modern reader, chock-full as it is of now-obscure allusions to Bath customs and institutions. Our job was to track them down.”
    2. “A fun example: Matthews mentions at one point a “priest” by the name of “King.” Eh? It turns out he’s referring to a fellow named James King, who wasn’t a priest at all but one of the city’s two “Masters of Ceremonies” – responsible for “presiding over social functions, welcoming newcomers, and enforcing an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction” (Gores, Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, p. 71). Matthews calls him a priest to poke fun at the city’s almost religious devotion to entertainment. And this same King plays a brief but important role in Northanger Abbey: he introduces Catherine and Henry. All of which is to say, paying close attention to Matthews can often lead to a fuller appreciation of Austen.”

Note from the Teacher: Searching for a Unique Contribution (The Why):

“The previous sentence begins to answer this question: we wanted to make a serious contribution to the study of Northanger Abbey

But let me speak as a teacher now, and not just a scholar. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the standard way of teaching writing and research at the high-school level: the five-page essay. A thesis statement establishing the argument, some body paragraphs elaborating or demonstrating the argument, plenty of quotations and analysis – chances are you’ve written a couple in your day! In defense of the form, it does offer a space in which students can practice rhetorical and argumentative skills. My problem with the form is that it has no authentic audience, and the kids know it. Now I might pretend it has an audience by telling them, “imagine you’re writing for someone who is familiar with the text, but hasn’t studied it in depth.” Yeah right! In the history of the world, no one has ever thought: “I’m mildly interested in Northanger Abbey; now let me go find some five-page close-readings of it, but only ones with clear thesis statements and at least two quotes per paragraph.” Nope, the only audience for these essays is the teacher, and the teacher is bringing a very different attitude to the piece and making a very different set of judgments about it than the hypothetical “curious reader.” So the poor students have to pretend to be addressing one audience that for them does not exist, in order to please a very different audience. A recipe for stress – not to mention strained and awkward writing.

What if we changed the equation? What if there were ways to really give students an audience for their academic writing? If we could pull it off, I think it would send the message that the work we ask of students is meaningful and important – that the study of literature itself is important. That’s what the football coaches do, after all (the arch-rivals of us English teachers). How do they convince the kids that running into each other at high speeds is a meaningful, important endeavor? They stick them in a stadium where a bunch of people watch them do it, and it becomes immediately, empirically obvious to the students that football matters. In short, they give the kids an audience.

These were the considerations that prompted me to devise the Matthews project and to reach out to Vic about potentially publishing it on JAW – a forum with a thriving conversation about Austen. And this leads to the practical section of this page.”

Working with Your Students (The How):

If you’re interested in running a project like this with your kids, here are some tips to make it work.

  1. Canon-adjacent may be better than canon. What does that mean? It means that if you’re teaching Pride and Prejudice, it’s going to be tough for your students to break new ground simply by scrutinizing that text. But, if you can find some neglected texts whose study might shed light on Pride and Prejudice, then the picture changes. What about some of her juvenilia? What about Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, which found an appreciative reader in Mr. Collins? What about some Georgian satire making fun of pompous clergymen? This is something to do over the summer, when you’re planning the class, and it might take some digging: the text has to be obscure enough that it isn’t already saturated with criticism, but relevant enough to your main text that there are readers out there who might care about it. “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” fit the bill: almost untouched by scholarship, but with clear connections to Northanger Abbey.
  2. Line up your venue in advance. This is key: you want the kids to know who their audience is from the beginning. Are you going to create an exhibit for a local public library? Will you try to get something published on a blog? Will you self-publish the students’ work on Amazon or some such service? Whatever the case, the students, like all writers, will do better work if they have a clear idea of whom they are addressing, and in what form. 
  3. Make sure students’ research tasks are well-defined. In our case, that meant combing through the poem, asking questions about various lines. Who are Tyson and King? What is a “macaroni”? Then students volunteered to tackle a certain number of research questions in groups. As a teacher, one of your roles is to be the executive planner, making sure there is the right number of students working on the right things.
  4. Offer continuous feedback. My students turned up all kinds of fascinating stuff in the course of their research, but of course they embarked on some rabbit trails as well. In order to help them make the most of their efforts, it’s a good idea to keep track of what students are doing while they’re doing it, rather than waiting to assess their work at the end. How can you do this? By creating a single google doc to which everybody contributes. Ours had a list of research questions, and I would simply check in every few days to see what students had added. Then I would leave comments offering encouragement, advice, and, if necessary, redirection. 
  5. Dive in yourself. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of writing and research of your own. Remember that your students are still learning the ropes of our discipline. If you want to produce a publishable class project, you’ll probably have to do more than simply split up duties and set deadlines. You’ll have to integrate and harmonize the students’ efforts, and fill in some of the gaps yourself. It can change the classroom dynamic in a refreshing way, too, to join in the action. It’s a bit like the old master-apprentice relationship, according to which teaching is a matter of showing, doing, and collaborating, not just telling or advising.
  6. Don’t grade. Or, if you must, do it on completion alone. A grade is what you give to practice scholarship, to performative scholarship – the five-page essay and other such readerless forms. The point of the project I’m describing is to allow students to do some real work. And a particularly good way to make it real is to remove yourself, the teacher, as the audience. For the purpose of this project, you’re the opposite of an audience, you’re a co-author, and the real audience is what all good writing deserves: an interested public.

Sub pages:

Link to “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, 1795,” John Matthews

Plans for Going Forward: 

Our class ended last December, but currently about half the students and I are working on a new project: a scholarly edition of “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme,” complete with an introduction and notes. We’ll be publishing it with Kindle Direct, an Amazon service. Digital copies of the edition will be available to the public at no cost, and hardcopies for under ten dollars.

In the long term, I hope to start a book series to which successive classes can contribute. It might be called something like “Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen.” The goal of the series would be to recover Georgian and Regency writers whose work has fallen out of print, but whose study can shed fresh light on Austen’s life and work. As with the Matthews project, the students and I would work together to introduce and annotate these texts. We would also share the nitty-gritty tasks of publication — obtaining an ISBN, formatting, that sort of thing.

Jane Austen’s World’s Participation in the Project and Two Powerpoint Presentations: Tony Grant and Victoire Sanborn

About the PowerPoints:  

For a visit to Bath and a visual background, Dr. Wiebracht scheduled two workshops, one for Tony Grant, who lives in England and has served as a tour guide to visitors interested in learning more about the places where Jane Austen lived or visited. His PowerPoint and talk were given first, and should be viewed first for those who are interested.

Vic Sanborn’s presentation came the following month. She, too, had visited Bath and used a few of her own photographs, but mostly she concentrated on discussing the years of 1795-98, when Matthews wrote the Adumbration and when Thomas Rowlandson created his illustrations for “The Comforts of Bath.” Tony’s PowerPoint sets up Vic’s perfectly, for her notes are not in the PPT slides. Enjoy!

  • Link to Tony Grant’s PowerPoint Presentation on a Virtual Tour of Bath, given October 2020. This PPT, consisting of Tony’s photographs of his trips to Bath as both a visitor and a guide, comes with descriptions and annotations. If you use his photographs, please give him attribution.
  • Link to Vic Sanborn’s PowerPoint Presentation of Bath 1795, the year the Adumbration was written. The PPT is without explanatory text or the presenter’s voice. A majority of the images are from Thomas Rowlandson’s Prints of “The Comforts of Bath” from 1798. The images, on Wikipedia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are in the public domain. If Vic Sanborn’s photos are used, please give her attribution. 

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