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Archive for the ‘Regency Period’ Category

Having just made a big move myself, I was intrigued by the thought that Jane Austen herself—not to mention several of her characters—knew what it took to move an entire household from one place to another.

One of the best resources available to us regarding a big move is the letter Austen wrote to Cassandra on January 3, 1801, prior to their family’s move to Bath from Steventon. From it, and from the details in her novels, we learn many interesting details about what a big move entailed.

If you’ve ever wanted some Regency advice on moving house, this is for you!

Image of Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons
Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons

Send Your Servants Ahead

In terms of logistics, members of the genteel class usually sent servants ahead of them when they went from one house to another, as we see when Mr. Bingley goes to Netherfield:

Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.

Pride and Prejudice

Similarly, Elinor and Marianne, when arriving in London with Mrs. Jennings after three days of travel, are greeted by “all the luxury of a good fire.” The house is “handsome, and handsomely fitted up.” Elinor writes to her mother before a dinner that will not “be ready in less than two hours from their arrival.” It’s clear that Mrs. Jennings employs servants who clean, cook, shop, and prepare the house for her visits.

Hire Good People

When preparing to move to Bath, Jane Austen’s mother wanted to keep two maids: “My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids; my father is the only one not in the secret.”

With her typical flair for humor, Austen hoped to engage other servants as well: “We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side.”

Do Your Research

In Austen’s letter, she talks about several areas of Bath where they hoped to find a house: Westgate Buildings, Charles Street, and “some of the short streets leading from Laura Place or Pulteney Street.”

About Westgate Buildings, Austen wrote: “though quite in the lower part of the town, are not badly situated themselves. The street is broad, and has rather a good appearance.” Regarding Charles Street, she thought it “preferable”: “The buildings are new, and its nearness to Kingsmead Fields would be a pleasant circumstance.” And concerning the third area: “The houses in the streets near Laura Place I should expect to be above our price. Gay Street would be too high, except only the lower house on the left-hand side as you ascend.”

4 Syndey Place, Bath

Mrs. Austen seemed to have a preference: “her wishes are at present fixed on the corner house in Chapel Row, which opens into Prince’s Street. Her knowledge of it, however, is confined only to the outside, and therefore she is equally uncertain of its being really desirable as of its being to be had.”

None of the Austens were in favor of Oxford Buildings: “we all unite in particular dislike of that part of the town, and therefore hope to escape.”

Bring Your Art

We know from Austen’s letter that they planned to take the following pictures and paintings from Steventon to Bath: “[T]he battle-piece, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, and all the old heterogeneous miscellany, manuscript, Scriptural pieces dispersed over the house, are to be given to James.”

Good artwork is hard to find.

Of special note, Jane tells Cassandra, “Your own drawings will not cease to be your own, and the two paintings on tin will be at your disposal.”

Good Furniture is Worth Moving

Apparently, Rev. and Mrs. Austen had a very good bed that was irreplaceable: “My father and mother, wisely aware of the difficulty of finding in all Bath such a bed as their own, have resolved on taking it with them…” Austen wrote this about the rest of the household beds: “all the beds, indeed, that we shall want are to be removed — viz., besides theirs, our own two, the best for a spare one, and two for servants; and these necessary articles will probably be the only material ones that it would answer to send down.”

When it came to their dressers, they decided it was time for an upgrade: “I do not think it will be worth while to remove any of our chests of drawers; we shall be able to get some of a much more commodious sort, made of deal, and painted to look very neat…”

Image of dining room at the Jane Austen House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton.

As to the rest of their furniture, they decided it would be better to replace most of it in Bath: “We have thought at times of removing the sideboard, or a Pembroke table, or some other piece of furniture, but, upon the whole, it has ended in thinking that the trouble and risk of the removal would be more than the advantage of having them at a place where everything may be purchased. Pray send your opinion.”

Jane’s final comments to Cassandra are amusing as ever: “My mother bargains for having no trouble at all in furnishing our house in Bath, and I have engaged for your willingly undertaking to do it all.”

Visit People on the Way

In Austen’s letter, she explains their family travel plans: “[M]y mother and our two selves are to travel down together, and my father follow us afterwards in about a fortnight or three weeks. We have promised to spend a couple of days at Ibthorp in our way. We must all meet at Bath, you know, before we set out for the sea, and, everything considered, I think the first plan as good as any.”

Ibthorpe, Photo by Rachel Dodge

Not So Different

Moving house in Jane Austen’s day was not quite so different from today. Though the modes of transportation and the methods of research and communication were somewhat different, I was delighted to find that the Austens’ moving plans were surprisingly applicable to mine! (Except for the servants.)


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Coming this fall: The Secret Garden Devotional. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Book's coverStrictly speaking the oficial Regency lasted from 1811 to 1820, but the author, Ian Mortimer, takes the reader on a journey to Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland – from 1789 to 1830, a time period that is in line with most other historians, literary critics and antiques experts.

This book achieves something unique – a historian’s perspective written in a style of writing that is exciting to read. I did indeed feel like a time traveller as I was taken through the British countryside, Brighton, London, and Manchester. Mortimer touches all aspects of British life – from the vitality of the era, expansion of cities, and the explosion of scientific advances, trade, transportation, and the island’s population. Mortimer describes both the good and the bad effects of the industrial revolution, and the results of enclosures in England on farmers with small farms and of the Highland clearances on Scottish crofters.

The era’s glittering lifestyle is not neglected and the author takes advantage of the journals and accounts of contemporary eyewitnesses. This is Karl Moritz’z impression of the rotunda in Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea (1810):

“On my entry I mixed with this crowd, and what with the constant changing of the faces around me (most of them strikingly beautiful), the illuminations, the majesty and splendour of the place, and the ever-present strains of music, I felt for a moment as a child would on first looking into a fairy-tale.”

Above: Two images included in the book. Hover cursor over them for details.

Mortimer contrasts this memory with the description of a winter in London some twenty years later. Coal fires in London so polluted the air that soot floated without falling, and the fog and smoke darkened the skies even at noon.

As the rich built grand houses or renovated outdated mansions, and hired Capability Brown or Humphrey Repton to transform their grounds, many poor people suffered, for few resources or improvements were provided for them. Liverpool’s houses for migrant workers were designed in such a way as to provide no comfort or cleanliness. Two privies might serve two or three hundred people. The overcrowding was so severe that the population density was estimated at 777 per acre. So many other topics are covered: science, medicine and health; pleasure gardens and entertainments; occupations; food and drink; clothing; etc.

Time traveAfter reading this book, I had a comprehensive overview of the Regency era and recommend it to anyone interested in this period. Amazon Kindle edition (See cover to the right) offers a sample of the book’s Introduction, and Chapters 1 & 2 in full.

About the Author:

Ian-MortimerDr Ian Mortimer has been described by The Times newspaper as ‘the most remarkable medieval historian of our time’. He is best known as the author of The Time Traveller’s Guides: to Medieval England (2008); to Elizabethan England (2012); to Restoration Britain (2017); and to Regency Britain (2020). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and has published research in academic journals touching on every century from the twelfth to the twentieth. For more information, see http://www.ianmortimer.com

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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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Inquiring readers, This fascinating post written by author Clyve Rose explains to film viewers who have not read Emma the short, confusing scene shown in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 film adaptation of Austen’s novel. Ms. Rose reviews the history of Gipsies or Gypsies in Regency England and Europe in general, and provides insights into why this nomadic group was shunned and feared.

Painting of a young gypsy woman by Karlis Teodors Huns, 1870.

Public domain image of a young Gypsy woman with a tambourine, painted by Kārlis Teodors Hūns, 1870. Wikimedia Commons.

In Chapter 39 of Austen’s Emma, we come upon a curious incident. Miss Harriet Smith (the pretty and ‘natural daughter’ of no-one-yet-knows), out walking with a companion, is accosted by a ‘group of gypsies’. This incident is curious for many readers, and for many reasons.

For modern readers who may not understand the fear and attendant danger of such an episode, it is worth remembering that merely associating with “such a set of people” was judged to be a crime in Regency England. From the 1500s onwards the Crown made several attempts to rid their green and pleasant land of these ‘other’ residents, including deporting them to the colonies and attempting to legislate them out of all existence. By Austen’s time, any conversation or ‘consorting’ with ‘gypsies’ was considered a criminal act for which one could be incarcerated — or worse. A case in 1782 saw a fourteen year old girl hanged for such acquaintance, on the orders of the local magistrate.

That Harriet Smith speaks to the ‘gypsies’, offers them money, and then pleads with them would have been enough to see her in trouble with the law. While the local Highbury magistrate (our hero, Mr Knightley) would be unlikely to order Harriet hanged (I doubt even Austen could redeem a hero who sentences his heroine’s ‘particular friend’ to the gallows), Miss Smith still, technically, commits a crime in this scene. Leaving aside the impact this moment has on the romantic machinations of Emma and her friends, it affords us a rare glimpse into a Regency England that is not often represented in contemporary works.

Austen’s England is a very specific place. A place inhabited only by the English themselves. It is very interesting that one of the few glimpses her readers ever receive of the scaffolding behind this construct, is in the novel where her heroine is labelled by the author herself as ‘an imaginist’ – because, of course, the ideal of a homogenous England is pure imagination: Especially as the empire was at its height at the time, both from a cultural and a mercantile perspective.

There are hints of a similar façade – and Austen’s awareness that this is a façade – in Mansfield Park as well. Sir Thomas Bertram’s references to the slave trade in Jamaica, and its importance as the mainstay of his wealth, is touched upon. He even suggests introducing some of his ‘stock’ at Mansfield Park, but this is not taken seriously. What happens in Jamaica must stay in Jamaica. England is only for the English, Sir Thomas!

The British Empire once spanned a quarter of the known world, but at no point were the native-born residents of these colonies truly deemed to be ‘English’. These antipodeans were not, after all, actually resident in England itself. At least, not most of them. What if the ‘non-English’ people were not ‘out there’ in the colonies? What if they did, in fact, live in England right alongside the Bertrams, the Woodhouses, the Knightleys – and even the Bennets?

Which brings me to the Romany of England: Their position in these narratives is unique; almost as unusual as their place in Regency England – because of course they had one. They lived, loved, and mattered in the same geographic spaces as Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith.

The fact is, this ‘England-only-for-the-English’ was peopled by another culture entirely. England was, and is, a shared land. Two cultures, so vastly different in so many ways, coexisted for centuries, and rarely peacefully. The English Romany were as present and alive and wonderfully romantic as the Regency English. Coming from a mostly oral tradition, Romany stories from that time are rarely found in print but that they were there, and experienced this period, and undoubtedly have stories to tell about it – is visible even in the work of authors determined to showcase only their ‘own England’ to their ‘own’ readers.

Austen’s England has the backing of every powerful institution of her day. In terms of crafting the dominant narrative, the English are able to draw on the Crown, the Military, the Law, and of course the Church, which played such a vital part in the lives and lovers of Regency England. Even Heaven sides with the English in Austen’s world view. Her father, let’s not forget, was a clergyman. In the incident ascribed above, Austen does not specifically accuse the ‘gypsies’ of being heathens, but they are clearly depicted as ‘other’; outside the town limits of Highbury itself and dark, terrifying, criminal, and dangerous. They certainly do not ‘fit’ in Austen’s England, and are quite unsatisfyingly removed from Emma’s tale as soon as they have served their rather meagre narrative purpose: “The Gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice: they took themselves off in a hurry.”

Or rather, the author moved them quickly off her bleached white pages and out of ‘her’ England – despite the truth that there were non-English people present in Austen’s England; other voices with their own perspectives and their own stories worth telling, and worth writing. Contemporary Regency writers can not erase these different voices from their tales, because these real people existed all around them, finding their way into these ‘English-only’ narratives with the same kind of side-eye once given to the Irishman and the Scot. The cultural difference between these latter still-European folk and the Romany is, however, far greater – which may account for the fact that their treatment at the hands of English Regency writers seems to have been far worse.

It is difficult to be born into a place that never allows you to become a part of it without a fight, a plea, an effort to assimilate and cut away the parts of you that discomfit the powerful dominant culture all around you. It is more than difficult; it is painful and damaging. The very term ‘marginalisation’ is an admission of the lack of narrative ‘space’ allotted to the voices fiction has chosen to leave unloved, and unnoticed.

The term ‘marginal’ itself bothers me. It is almost (but not quite) a pejorative, which is why I place it in single quotes. I have here done the same with the term ‘gypsy’. I am aware that neither term is universally regarded as harmful. Debates rage all over this, on may fronts. I am only one writer; one voice among many and I have no answers. That there is ongoing debate however, is encouraging.

For myself, born into a marginalised culture with a mostly oral tradition, the ‘minor’ incident in Emma stands out. After all, my own tribe has quite a bit in common with the Romany. There was once a link made between the Romany of Europe and the Lost Tribes of Israel. It turned out to be incorrect, but the placement of ‘other’ in an otherwise ‘native’ land is a context embedded into my lived experience every day – and that’s quite apart from the grim reality shared in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II; a shared history I am sure not even an imaginist like Austen – or Emma – could envisage. Its very surreality is what allows deniability to play so plausibly in the minds of those focused on the façade, rather than any kind of ‘real’ history.

Real history is profoundly unromantic – and yet, somehow, we still try. There is beauty in stories, in narratives of the tales about long-ago lovers and their imagined worlds. There is much solace to be found in story – I love re-reading Austen (although Emma is not my favourite of her works), but in between the wonder of her words, I find myself reading for traces. Traces of others who were there – and whose stories deserve to be told.

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, www.artphotobykira.com.au

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, http://www.artphotobykira.com.au

About Clyve Rose:

Clyve Rose has been writing historical romance fiction for the best part of two decades. Her newest work, Always a Princess, published by Boroughs Publishing Group, debuts this September. She works in the historical romance, fantasy, and speculative fiction genres. She also creates literary novels under an alternative pen name. In between her devotion to fiction writing, Clyve researches various mythologies and historical periods, often basing her characters on actual historical personalities.​

One of her novels was longlisted for a Hachette Development Award for Fiction while her paranormal short story, The One Below, won the Passionate Ink (RWA) award for best Speculative Fiction Short.

​Visit her online at:

Connect with Clyve Rose at ClyveRose.com and Instagram.com/ClyveRose, in which she writes “Clyve Rose is an award-winning Regency Romance author. New Regency release out on 8 Sept. 2020.”

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During the late 18th century, early 19th century, trains on gowns were de rigueur. I chose to show the two gowns below, since the styles were popular when Jane Austen was a teenager (first image) and wrote the first editions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice (second and third images).

1785-90 Sheer embroidered cotton muslin lined with pink silk taffeta - Galliera

Sheer embroidered cotton muslin, lined with pink silk taffeta, 1785-1790. Galliera

Silk Dress 1795 The Kyoto Costume Institute

Silk Dress, Kyoto Costume Institute, 1795

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

As Regency styles evolved and the 19th century  progressed, trains were worn largely on evening dresses.

 

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

I have often wondered how delicate muslin gowns survived the harsh laundering that was required to remove stains made from dusty floors and muddy pathways. Even the grandest ladies wearing the most expensive dresses promenaded on gravel walkways or shopped along city or village streets. How did they manage to keep their hems clean in an era when paved roads and sidewalks were almost impossible to find?

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Until macadam roads became widespread, roads across most of Great Britain remained unpaved. Village roads were especially notorious for becoming muddy quagmires during rainy days. The deep ruts in this village scene, illustrated just five years before Jane Austen’s birth, say it all.

Detail

Detail of  the road in New Cross Deptford

Dresses worn by working class women stopped at or above the ankles, and for good reason! These women wore sturdy leather shoes that could withstand the dirt.

recto

Paul Sandby drawing of two vendors, 18th c.

City streets were barely better than country roads. While sidewalks protected dress hems, roads were still made of dirt. People tossed out garbage from their windows, and horse droppings made crossings all but impassible for pedestrians.

Dirt road_St. George, Bloomsbury

Dirt road, detail of St. George, Bloomsbury

Crossing sweepers were stationed along major intersections, sweeping a clearing for anyone willing to give a tip. Not only did horses pull carriages and wagons, but drovers led animals to market through village and city streets. The stench from their droppings must have been unbelievable.

street sweeper and wheeled plank Vernet_street_print

This enterprising street sweeper places a wheeled plank at strategic points to help pedestrians cross dirty roads. Print by Carle Vernet.

 

With time, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes.

By 1829, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes in “The Scavenger’s Lamentation.” Observe the piles of horse and animal dung left behind.

Jane Austen mentioned wearing pattens when she lived in Steventon. These devices elevated shoes above the dirt, but by the turn of the 19th century, pattens were no longer considered fashionable and were largely worn by the working classes, such as the midwife below.

Rowlandson, Midwife going to a labour.

Rowlandson. AMidwife Going to a Labour.

 

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I always view contemporary images for clues. Diana Sperling created some wonderful watercolours around the topic. In this painting, you can see how the trains of the dresses have somehow been hitched up in the back, especially with the first and third women.

dirt road_hazards of walking sperling

Hazards of walking, by Diana Sperling

After Elizabeth Bennet walks to Netherfield to visit her sick sister, Jane, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Bingley speak disparagingly about the state of her dress:

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.” – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8

Bingley’s citified and nouveau riche sisters were horrified at Elizabeth’s lack of decorum. To them, appearances are more important than sisterly devotion. One imagines that they would not have ventured out until the sun had dried the mud and they could be assured of a carriage. From the image below, one can readily see why Elizabeth’s hems were in such sad shape after her long walk in fields made wet by heavy rain.

Dirt roads

One wonders how helpful pattens were when dirt roads became quagmires. Although she was young when she painted these watercolours, Diana Sperling demonstrates a decided sense of humor in her paintings.

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella and Catherine became quickly inseparable, even calling each other by their first names in an age when only intimate friends and family could be on such terms.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. 

They pinned up the trains of each others’ evening gowns to prevent tripping, but also staining, I suspect.  (It must be noted that guests changed from their street shoes to dancing slippers before entering a ballroom, which probably reduced the amount of dirt trailed inside.) Nothing could stop the girls from seeing each other, not even “dirt” or muddy streets.

There were many ways to protect trains. In this film still, Gwynneth Paltrow’s Emma hitches her train on a loop over her wrist.

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

These French images from the late 18th century provide the best evidence in how ladies would protect their delicate dresses out of doors. While we assume that ladies did not expose their ankles to the public (they certainly did not in the Victorian era, but the Regency was a different time), the illustrations point out the practical habit of hitching a train over one’s arm.

corte de pelo a la victima

This French fashionista with her short, pert hair cut, reveals her roman style slippers as she promenades with her train carried over her arm.

Les Merveilleuses, by carle vernet

While this 1797 satiric image by Carle Vernet is making fun of fashionistas, one can surmise that the habit of carrying long skirts over the fore arm was widespread.

Wind and open windows swept dirt and dust continually into houses and visitors trod in dirt. No wonder maids needed to sweep floors daily!

Regardless of the efforts to keep streets, sidewalks, and floors clean, one wonders about the condition of the hems on women’s garments. Clothes were expensive before the advent of mass-produced cloth and were carefully recycled, even by the well-off.

Laundresses took an enormous amount of effort to keep clothes clean. One can only assume that the majority of women wore clothes with stained hems, and that only the rich could afford the expense of keeping their clothes looking spotless. Eleanor Tilney wore only white gowns, which told contemporary readers more about her economic status than pages of explanations ever could. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris frowned on maidservants wearing white gowns. These white clothes were not only above their stations, but they would require an enormous amount of time spent on maintenance.

Also on this blog: Trains on Dresses

 

 

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