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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

“We are to have a tiny party here tonight; I hate tiny parties–they force one into constant exertion.” — Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 21, 1801,  while visiting her Aunt Jane and Uncle James Leigh-Perrot in Bath

Drawing of a Regency woman writing a letter

Image by Isabelle Bishop, from the Morgan Library Exhibit of Life, Work, and Legacy of Jane Austen.

Inquiring readers, 

Tomorrow it will be December, a time for parties, celebrations, family gatherings, and Christmas activities, mostly  in Christian regions. During Austen’s time, people associated this period with the religious calendar, as well as with pagan traditions observed since ancient times. Celebrations during Austen’s life began on Dec 6th, St. Nicholas Day, and lasted until January 6th, or 12th night — the Feast of the Epiphany. 

Since 2009, this blog has posted many articles about British Christmas and New Year’s traditions, with food, dress, and customs during the Regency era and before. Austen described holiday festivities in her novels, and balls, such as the one at Netherfield Park, but none of her personal descriptions are as detailed as those mentioned in this letter to Cassandra, which tells of a large musical party that her brother Henry and sister-in-law, Eliza, held in their house in London ( 64 Sloane Street) on 25th April, 1811.

snip of the letter

Detail of Austen’s letter to Cassandra. Image: British Library Online.

The reason for Austen’s visit was to work on proofs for Sense and Sensibility, her first published novel. I chose this letter because musical parties and get-togethers were given frequently, regardless of the time of year. The songs, decorations, and fashions might have changed with the seasons, but Austen’s description of this large party, the musicians, and the guests must have seemed quite familiar to her contemporaries, despite her spare details.

NOTE: I’ve related only the details of the party in the letter. Read the full transcript at this link to The British Library.

The Letter 

  1. To Cassandra Austen (# From Deirdre Le Faye’s Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters)

Thursday, 25, April 1811

Sloane St Thursday April 25

Before the party:

My dearest Cassandra

… Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations, beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, &c., and looked very pretty. A glass for the mantlepiece was lent by the man who is making their own. Mr. Egerton and Mr. Walter came at half-past five, and the festivities began with a pair of very fine soals. 

(Soals is an obsolete spelling for sole, a flat fish. Hannah Glasse described a recipe for Fricasee of Soles made with lemon soles or a larger, thicker plaice fish, which fed more people.)

In this passage, Jane described the usual hustle and bustle before a grand party that we all have felt in our own lives. In this letter, she provided more details for her sister than in her novels for her readers.)

Mr Egerton is the publisher who brought out Jane’s first novel, “Sense and Sensibility”.)

Events leading up to the party:

Yes, Mr. Walter — for he postponed his leaving London on purpose — which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose — his calling on Sunday and being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did; but it is all smoothed over now, and she likes him very well.”

(This sentence is somewhat enigmatic. Why would his postponement not give him much pleasure? How was the situation smoothed over? Mollands.net says this about Mr. Walter: [He] must have been related to Jane through her grandmother (Rebecca Hampson), who married first, Dr. Walter; secondly, William Austen. Mr. Ronald Dunning wrote a post about  Rebecca Hampson for this blog just a week ago. 

As the festivities began:

At half-past seven arrived the musicians in two hackney coaches, and by eight the lordly company began to appear. Among the earliest were George and Mary Cooke*, and I spent the greater part of the evening very pleasantly with them. The drawing-room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting passage, which was comparatively cool, and gave us all the advantage of the music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer.”

Black and white drawing of a Hackney Coach drawn by two horses

Hackney Coach, ca 1800

(Two hackney coaches carried 6 people per coach, so we may surmise that at least 12 musicians arrived with their  instruments. 

Houses in town were listed as 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th rate, fourth being the largest and first being the smallest. Henry’s house, located on 64 Sloane Street, is today unrecognizable from its Georgian size and façade. At the time he and Eliza rented the house, it was a 3rd rate house (3 windows wide), worth between £ 350 and £ 850 with from 500 – 900 square feet of floor space.) Because Henry was a successful banker during this time and Eliza had considerable means of her own, we can surmise that the house they rented was most likely on the larger side of 500 – 900 square feet of floor space.

Austen comments on a few acquaintances:

I was quite surrounded by acquaintances, especially gentlemen; and what with Mr. Hampson, Mr.Seymour, Mr. W. Knatchbull, Mr. Guillemarde, Mr. Cure, a Captain Simpson, brother to the Captain Simpson, besides Mr. Walter and Mr. Egerton, in addition to the Cookes, and Miss Beckford, and Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do. Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, and looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight and cordiality of course. Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.”

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(Fashion: While Austen did not describe the clothes worn by guests, Cassandra would have easily envisioned what people wore. Jane had a limited yearly budget for personal items. At a party held on Christmas, 1811, she would have refurbished a previously worn evening gown, from 1810 or before. The 1811 evening dresses had narrower skirts, mostly without trains, and hems cut at or above ankle length. Eliza de Fuillide, a woman of rank and fortune, would have worn the latest fashion. Henry Austen was quite prosperous when he rented the house at 64 Sloane Street and therefore was able to spare no expense in hosting this party.

Although Jane hated tiny parties because they required constant exertion, this musical party seemed to require as much of her attention as the former. Her wit was on full display in this letter.  Miss M., sadly, has not sufficient funds nor the looks to attract a possible husband, unlike Jane Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” or Cassandra Austen, as described by Lucy Worsley in “Jane Austen at Home.”

Many of the people mentioned by Jane are identified by Deidre Le Faye. Find their descriptions at the end of this article.**

Cheltenham, whose famous mineral waters were founded in 1716,  was prominent during the Georgian era. (Christy Somers noted a short article by Carolyn S. Greet, in Jane Austen Reports for 2003, “Jane and Cassandra in Cheltenham. Diana Birchall wrote: 

“In the spring of 1816 Jane and Cassandra paid a visit to Cheltenham, primarily for the sake of Jane’s health. Other members of the family had previously visited the little town, including James and his wife Mary, as Jane had mentioned in a letter of 1813. Cheltenham was then in its fashionable heyday, with its attractions being both therapeutic and social. It was still small and rustic compared with Bath, and all the buildings were still grouped along the single mile-long High Street. It was not lit with gas until 1818, and had a single set of Assembly Rooms, theatre, libraries, shops, and lodging houses. There is a description of the saline wells, which people drank from in the morning, for a laxative effect.- Reveries Under the sign of Austen

Numbers Attending the Party:

Including everybody we were sixty-six — which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, and quite enough to fill the back drawing-room and leave a few to be scattered about in the other and in the passage.”

Jane had mentioned standing in the connecting passage, which was cooler than the two drawing rooms. The image below might be a facsimile of Henry’s and Eliza’s first floor, which typically consisted of two rooms for entertaining guests. One was larger than the other. A passageway connected the stairs to the two rooms. 

The first floor:

“It was held on the first floor in the octagonal rear salon and the front drawing room. Jane told Cassandra that she spent most of the time talking to friends in ‘…the connecting Passage, which was comparatively cool, & gave us all the advantage of the Music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer.’ There were glee singers, a harpist and floral decorations” – Walking Jane Austen’s London. Louise Allen, Bloomsbury Publishing10 Jul 2013 .

None of the above images showed fashions even close to those worn in 1811. Formal menswear had not changed much, however, and the illustrations do give us an idea of how these parties were held.

Sixty-six people in a Regency London townhouse would have presented quite a squeeze. Even on a cold day in December, the rooms, with candles burning in chandeliers and candelabras, and heat rising from the kitchen in the basement, would have already been hot. In April, when this letter was written, the heat would have been substantial. The large group of guests would have intensified the heat even more. We do not know if the 66 guests included the musicians and singer. As Cruikshank’s images showed, card tables were set up, a common practice that Jane does not mention. One wonders if they were set up on the ground floor, near the dining room, and the floor just above the kitchen. This level would also have been easier for older people to reach. One can only conjecture about these arrangements.

Deirdre Le Faye mentions Winnifred Watson’s description of the interior of 64 Sloane Street, but the few remaining copies of her small out of print booklet, “Jane Austen in London,” are above my budget (one was listed at over $260) and so I could not read it. London townhouses built after the great London fire followed strict guidelines in both design and materials. Henry and Eliza at this juncture in their lives could probably afford a 3rd rate house with a larger square footage of floor space, perhaps even 900 sq. feet. 

Using Jane’s description, and Deirdre Le Faye’s mention of this house, I found this image and quickly drew the other one very badly.

The Music:

The music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela”; and of the other glees I remember, “In peace love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” “The Red Cross Knight,” and “Poor Insect.” Between the songs were lessons on the harp, or harp and pianoforte together; and the harp-player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, though new to me. There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis, all in blue, bringing up for the public line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; and all the performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, and giving themselves no airs. No amateur could be persuaded to do anything. “

This image of Regency guests listening to musicians sits on the Alamy website. Since I have not purchased it, please click on the  link to view it: https://www.alamy.com/thomas-rowlandson-a-little-evening-music-georgian-cartoon-of-a-fashionable-image9616736.html 

(Interestingly, the phrase “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela” was a special language that Jane used with her niece Fanny by placing a ‘p’ in front of every word. The only one I could decipher was Harp for Parp. https://bit.ly/3o8Nb97, Jane Austen, Her Contemporaries and Herself: An Essay in Criticism, By Walter Herries Pollock, 1899, Google Books.

Mollands.net adds:  Jane and her niece Fanny seem to have invented a language of their own–the chief point of which was to use a ‘p’ wherever possible. Thus the piece of music alluded to was ‘Strike the harp in praise of Bragela.’)

Miss Davis was a professional singer in London. Jane mentions that no amateur stepped up to play after listening to these fine players and singer.

About musicians during this time: 

“Amateur orchestras in city taverns or in gentlemen’s clubs competed with the professional concerts that began to sprout up in public places. (- The Rage for Music, Simon McVeigh) Local musicians would be hired for assembly balls in small towns. Musicians with a more professional background would be enlisted to play at more stylish events, like the Netherfield Ball. The lady asked to lead a set would choose the music and the steps, and relay her request to the Master of Ceremonies. “  https://janeaustensworld.com/2010/07/12/jane-austen-and-music/

Cities like London or Bath provided steady incomes for musicians. In order to make ends meet, those living in rural areas traveled from town to town to the different public assemblies or parties.

Glees

Glees were quite popular at this time. Jane mentioned glee songs in Mansfield Park. “Fanny Price was the only one of Austen’s heroines who never receives any musical training at all.” Fanny was unsuccessful in enticing Edmund to go outside to look at the stars. As soon as he hears singing, he says to her, “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny.” She was mortified.

Austen also mentioned glees in this letter to Cassandra, which during her time were songs for men’s voices in three or more parts, usually unaccompanied, popular especially c. 1750–1830. These songs, by the way, were nothing like the productions created for the TV series, Glee, which ran from 2009-2015. I found one glee recording on YouTube: Reginald Spofforth- 18th Century Glee Club: L’ape E La Serpe, from Vanguard Classics. 

In Peace Love Tunes the Shepherds Reed, the glee was meant for three voices, with words supplied by Walter Scott. Instrumentals were accompaniments for Piano Forte & Harp, or two performers on one Piano Forte. This glee was written by J. Atwood

This Rosabella score by John Wall Calcotte (1766-1821) in this link is for a cappella (originally). Piano accompaniment was added later by William Horsley. The lyrics were by Walter Scott.

The Red Cross Knight was written by Callcott, 1797. Also written by Callcott is the Poor Insect, a refrain from “The May Fly.”

Comforts of Bath-The Concert-Rowlandson-Google Art Project-Wikimedia Commons

Detail: The Concert, The Comforts of Bath, Thomas Rowlandson, 1798. Wikimedia Commons

At Party’s End:

The house was not clear till after twelve.” 

This party lasted a little over four hours. London had street lights that guided guests back to their lodgings and houses. In country houses, parties, which were scheduled under the light of the full moon, often lasted until the wee early hours. After a party at a country house, Jane would often spend the night as a guest at a friend’s house, at times with her dear friend Martha Lloyd if she could manage it. 

The following day:

Her party is mentioned in this morning’s paper.”  

“…in the Morning Post of 25 April, which must have been very gratifying, even if the newspaper spelled her name wrong: ‘Mrs H Austin had a musical party at her house in Sloane-street.” – http://what-when-how.com/Tutorial/topic-673689/London-A-Tour-Guide-for-Modern-Traveller-10.html  “Travel Reference In-Depth Information, Walk 1: Sloane Street to Kensington, A Tour Guide for the Modern Traveler.”

The guests:

* Cooke family of Great Bookham. Rev. George Cooke and his unmarried sister Mary. Their father, Rev. Samuel Cooke was Jane’s godfather. 

**

  • Mr. George Hampson was a baronet who chose not to use his title. He is one of Jane’s cousins through her relationship to her grandmother, Rebecca Hampson, whose second husband was William Austen.
  • Mr. William Seymour, Henry Austen’s friend and a lawyer, who, it was speculated, might have considered proposing to Jane, but he didn’t.
  • M. Wyndham Knatchbull, merchant in London, or Reverend Doctor Wyndham Knatchbull, the eldest son of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Baronet. 
  • Mr. Guillemarde is probably John Lewis Guillemarde, who lived in London
  • Mr. Capel Cure, who lived in London. His father, George, had first married Elizabeth Hampson, daughter of Sir George Hampson, but she died childless. Capel is the son of George Cure’s second wife.
  • Captain John Simpson, brother of Captain Robert Simpson. 
  • Mr. Thomas Egerton, Austen’s first publisher. He brought out S&S, P&P, and the first edition of Mansfield Park. His presence at the party, and Jane’s purpose for visiting Henry and Eliza to complete work on Sense & Sensibility connects his attendance at the party in a marvelous way.
  • Miss Maria Beckford, unmarried, lived with the Middleton family as hostess for her brother-in-law, John Middleton. When in London for the season Miss Beckford lived at 17 Welbeck Street. (Le Faye, p 495)
  • Miss Middleford. No explanation by Ms. Le Faye.)

Additional sources:

Characteristics of the Georgian Townhouse , June 3, 2009 , Jane Austen’s World, Vic

Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Deirdre Le Faye, 2011, Oxford University Press. 

Jane Austen’s visit to Sloane Street , Kleurijk Jane Austen, 9-2014

Jane Austen, Her Contemporaries and Herself: Walter Herries Pollock · 1899 – Explanation of “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela”

Georgian Terrace Houses, April 27, 2021, Random Bits of Fascination.com, Georgian Townhomes

Thank you, Tony Grant, for contributing the 3 current photographs of Hans Place (2) and of 64 Sloane Street (1).

george austen

George Austen, Jane Austen’s father

Very little has been known about George Austen’s mother, Rebecca Hampson; what had been on record consisted of not much more than vital events, and some of their dates. That she was the daughter of Sir George Hampson of Gloucester, a doctor of physick and a baronet, is established fact, as is her first marriage to William Walter, with whom she had a son William Hampson; and after William Walter’s death, her marriage to William Austen, and the births of their four children. Her birth date had been extrapolated from the age stated on her grave in Tonbridge, erroneously as it turns out. Until S. G. Hale’s fortuitous discovery of her marriage to William Austen in registers of clandestine marriages, discussed later in this article, we didn’t know details of either of her marriages.

Although I cannot report the discovery of any letters towards constructing a biography, nor of any portraits, the indexing projects of genealogical companies such as Ancestry.com have revealed information which better focuses our curiosity about Rebecca and her two husbands. However, the first previously unrecognised fact predates online research by many years. Austen biographies had not mentioned the name of Rebecca’s mother, but The Complete Baronetage, published in 1902,1 states that George Hampson married Mary Coghill, daughter of John Coghill of Bletchingdon in Oxfordshire. The Coghills were a long-established Yorkshire family, until Mary’s grandfather Sir Thomas settled his branch at Bletchingdon. It is from that village, just north of the city of Oxford, that the first new facts emerge. 

George (not yet Sir George) Hampson and his wife Mary had their seven children baptised in the parish church, St Giles. Presumably they lived there; the fifty miles between the city of Gloucester and Bletchingdon would have been a dangerous distance over which to carry a newly born child, for the sake of baptism. Rebecca was baptised on 17 September 1693. The entry is unusually detailed, naming her godparents: John and Mrs Coghill (presumably her maternal grandparents), and Mrs Knapp (her maternal aunt Elizabeth, née Coghill). The stone slab in St Peter and St Paul’s, Tonbridge, recording her death in 1733, states that she was then 36; she was 39.

Dunning-800px-Allan_Ramsay_-_Queen_Charlotte_1744-1818_with_her_Two_Eldest_Sons_-_Google_Art_Project

Nothing is known of Rebecca’s childhood, nor of the date on which her father relocated the family to Gloucester. Now we have to fill gaps with assumptions. William Jarvis and Gilbert Hoole established, as they wrote in their article in the Annual Report of 1985,3 that her first husband William Walter, another doctor of physick, came from Tonbridge. He may have gone to Gloucester as an assistant to George Hampson, but we don’t know. We must assume that William and Rebecca married, but a search through the parish registers of St Michael’s, and St John’s, the two parishes with which the family are known to have been associated, has not provided any evidence; nor has Ancestry, so far, suggested another parish.

Now the new discoveries become more interesting. The couple had not one child, William Hampson Walter, but three. There is an entry in the parish register of St Owen’s, Hereford, for the baptism on 11 August, 1719, of Leonora, daughter of William Walter and his wife Rebecca.4 Although there is no corroborating evidence to confirm that it was this couple I am confident, because of the date and the combination of names. Hereford is not too far from Gloucester; William may, perhaps, have been seconded there for a time.

There must be significance in the choice of the name Leonora for Rebecca’s first and last daughters, but I have not found a precedent within her family. Another researcher has reported, although without evidence, that Leonora was buried on 19 November of the same year. She certainly did not appear in any later records. The date of her baptism in August 1719 provides a benchmark for the date of William and Rebecca’s marriage – one would expect that to have taken place by the end of 1718.

Their second child, William Hampson Walter, was baptised back at St Michael’s, Gloucester, on 31 August 1721. He survived into his late seventies, and is well documented, so I won’t dwell on him

The third Walter child was a boy named St George, who was baptised at St John the Baptist, Gloucester, on 25 June, 1723. The next record is, sadly, for his burial at Tonbridge on 29 September, 1725. George was the name of both Rebecca’s and William’s fathers, and she used it again in naming George Austen. This register entry shows that William and Rebecca were in Tonbridge during the year before his death. It had been thought that Rebecca did not visit the town till after that event, probably to look into the leasehold properties that he had held there.

Dunning-Image 2 St George's baptism 1723

dunning-Image 3 St George's burial 1725-1

Rebecca married again some nineteen months later, to another William – William Austen.

We do not know how they met, but we can guess. William Austen’s brother-in-law George Hooper, the husband of his sister Elizabeth, represented the fifth generation in a family of Tonbridge attorneys. George Hooper was well known to William Walter, who nominated him in his will as one of the two trustees. It would have been natural for the Walters to visit the Hoopers on their 1725 visit, where they may have encountered William Austen. Within the close-knit circle of Tonbridge gentry, there must have been other opportunities to meet. 

Stephen Hale, a member of the Society of Genealogists and of the Jane Austen Society, was the best-qualified person to recognise the significance of an entry for 13 January, 1727/8, in the registers of Clandestine Marriages in the Liberty of the Fleet, for William Austen of Tonbridge, Surgeon, and Rebecca Walter, also of Tonbridge.7 The Liberty of the Fleet was an area on the western edge of the City of London, surrounding the Fleet Prison for debtors, which was largely free of ecclesiastical oversight. There were many ‘marrying houses,’ where indebted clergymen could earn money to pay for their keep and ultimate release; however the specific locations of clandestine marriages were seldom noted in the registers. It is estimated that over 300,000 marriages took place there between 1720 and 1754. For many couples, it was simply a matter of convenience – they may both have come to London from distant parishes, and could marry quickly on the purchase of a licence. For others, they were definitely clandestine.

Why did William and Rebecca marry secretly, away from Tonbridge? No doubt they anticipated opposition from family and society. The couple’s age difference was greater than had been assumed – Rebecca was 34 and William 27. Fathers contributed property or finance on the first marriage of offspring, but not normally to a subsequent union; besides that, Sir George Hampson’s death had preceded William Walter’s by some twenty months. By remarrying, Rebecca sacrificed her half-share in her first husband’s property to their son. Whatever wealth William Austen had at his young age accumulated, and whatever status Rebecca had as the daughter of a baronet, their position in society was going to be precarious.

It is clear from a letter written by William’s aunt, Mary Tilden (née Weller), that he felt awkward. In the Annual Report of 2009 Mark Ballard, a Kent County archivist, transcribed some lines from her letter of 4 April 1728, written to her brother Edward Weller. They are worth repeating: 

In your last you hinted … you thought there was now nothing of Cous. Will Austen’s amour which I then wonder’d at, but I suppose my Brother [Robert] has told you what reason we have to think he is now married. I think he acts very foolishly in not declaring it and living as if it was so. I find him close & sullen if anything is mention’d to him of it tho I believe he’d have us think he is married. I said something to him a day or so ago and he answer’d me very ruff and unrespectfull. I found he was tutchd when I said the widow I believ’d was not that sincere person he believed.8

Mary’s misgivings concerning William’s behaviour are understandable, but we don’t know why she was suspicious of Rebecca. It appears that this first marriage of William’s was a love match and that Rebecca was prepared to sacrifice financial security for the emotional comforts of partnership. The couple wanted to be united despite the possibility of insecurity. What security they did gain was short-lived; Rebecca died only five years later, on 6 February 1732/3, shortly after the birth of the second Leonora. William died on 7 December, 1737. The eldest of their surviving children, Philadelphia, was nearly eight years of age; George, Jane Austen’s father, was six; and Leonora, nearing four. 

The new records presented here are only markers of events; we still know very little about the lives and characters of Rebecca and her two Williams. I began this article saying that this new evidence better focuses our curiosity; it leaves us wishing for more.

About the author:

Ronald Dunning

Ronald Dunning, Author

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

Also, click on this link to Sir Thomas More and Jane Austen  on this blog by Ronald Dunning.

Notes

. The Complete Baronetage, ed. G. E. Cokayne, pub. William Pollard & Co. Ltd., Exeter, 1902. Vol.2, p.177

  1. With the permission of the Oxfordshire History Centre. St Giles, Bletchingdon, parish registers. Ref. PAR36/1/R1/2.
  2. Annual Report, 1985: ‘William Walter – An Investigation by Gilbert Hoole and William Jarvis’
  3. Ancestry.com. St Owen’s, Hereford;  Family History Library Film Number 1041600
  4. Gloucestershire Archives. St John the Baptist, Gloucester, parish registers. Ref. P154/9 in 1/5
  5. With the permission of the Kent History and Library Centre, ref. P371/1/A/4
  6. Annual Report for 2010, p.79, ‘Jane Austen’s Grandparents: William and Rebecca Austen.’  The marriage was listed in at least three registers of Clandestine Marriages, held at The National Archives in Kew: RG7/67, RG7/85, and RG7/403.
  7. Annual Report for 2009, p.71, ‘Jane Austen’s Family in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone;’ Mark Ballard and Alison Cresswell. Kent History and Library Centre, ref.  KHLC U1000-18 C1-12

A Review by Brenda S. Cox

“I was all in a fright for fear your sister should ask us for the huswifes she had gave us a day or two before”—Anne Steele, Sense and Sensibility, chapter 38

Christmas Ideas

I just finished a fall design, perfect for November. It adorns a “housewife”  (or “huswife”) sewing organizer I’ll give as a Christmas gift. If, like me, you enjoy sewing gifts for people, Jane Austen Embroidery will give you great ideas and patterns. Or, if you want something for a Jane Austen fan, or for someone who enjoys sewing and embroidery, the book itself would be a great gift for them!

Jane Austen Embroidery

Jane Austen Embroidery: Regency Patterns Reimagined for Modern Stitchers, by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin, is a gorgeous book. With glossy pages full of beautiful photos, it’s a delight to read. I have done cross-stitch for many years, and dabbled in other kinds of embroidery, so I enjoyed learning more about stitching in Austen’s England.

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin gives fascinating views of embroidery in Austen’s life and times, and projects for modern stitchers based on patterns of Austen’s time.

The book begins with an introduction exploring “Embroidery in Jane Austen’s Britain.” We learn about Austen’s enjoyment of needlework (which was often just called “work,” in her novels and elsewhere). Some of her contemporaries, including Mary Wollstonecraft, complained that it was drudgery and meaningless work. However, Austen’s letters show that she enjoyed style and had fun fashioning trimmings and garments.

The Lady’s Magazine

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) is the source for the designs in the book. The authors explore the magazine’s history. It covered politics, science, cosmetics, essays, travel writing, poetry, serialized novels, music, and much more. According to Jane Austen Embroidery, The Lady’s Magazine balanced “traditionally feminine and intellectual accomplishments,” encouraging women to take up “the pen, as well as the needle.” Austen did both!

Embroidery patterns in the magazine were usually removed for use. It took the authors five years to track down sixty issues which still had intact patterns.

Readers of the magazine used the patterns with their own choices of colors, sizes, materials, and applications. Jenny Batchelor and Alison Larkin have adapted the patterns to modern materials and uses. They give detailed instructions.

The Lady’s Magazine covered many topics, ranging from politics to cosmetics. It encouraged women to take up the pen as well as the needle. Embroidery patterns were supplied regularly. Lady’s Magazine, August, 1770, public domain via Wikipedia

Overview of Jane Austen Embroidery

Seventeen pages explain in clear detail your options for tools, fabrics, thread, transferring the patterns to fabric, framing, working the stitches, and finishing your projects. I read this all the way through; even experienced stitchers will find helpful ideas here.

Three main sections make up the book: “Embroidered Clothes: Dressed to Impress,” “Embroidered Accessories: How Do You Like My Trimming?”, and “Embroidery for the Home: A ‘Nest of Comforts.” Each begins with an extensive discussion of uses of embroidery in Austen’s England aas well as references in her novels and letters.  For example, the authors say that in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney was telling Catherine what she might write in her journal, he was complimenting her in an indirect way. He said that she “appeared to much advantage” in her “sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings.” Sprigs were flowers or sprays of flowers, hand embroidered or printed onto the fabric.

Sewing Projects

Each section offers five projects with detailed instructions. Projects are marked “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced.” I didn’t notice this until I had already bought the material for an “Advanced” project, but I decided to go with it anyway!

For Beginners, in the first section the book offers a “simple sprig pattern” of two flowers on a stem, and a beaded pencil case with a swirling design from a gown pattern. Intermediate stitchers might sew a sequined evening clutch purse, embroidered from a waistcoat pattern, or an apron with an intricate “fireflower” pattern. Advanced stitchers can try  a “housewife” sewing organizer decorated with an autumn pattern.

Later sections offer a napkin set, cell phone pouch, tablet sleeve, reticule or jewelry pouch, muslin shawl, tea box top, work bag, cushion, sewing set, and tablecloth. All are lovely.

The Regency-Style Reticule or Jewelry Pouch, embroidered and beaded in bronze and gold, would add a lovely accessory to any Regency gown. Jane Austen Embroidery

The book tended to go a little freely between Austen’s time and modern times, so I wasn’t always sure whether techniques, materials, and designs were modern or traditional. But I was usually able to figure it out. Also I would have liked a few more pictures of embroidered items of Austen’s time; these were discussed but few were shown. Though I suppose more pictures would have added to the expense of the book, and it’s not too difficult to find pictures online.

The projects that interest me most were items actually used in Austen’s time: the housewife, reticule, shawl, tea box top, work bag, and sewing set. But modern stitchers might enjoy making things they can use daily, like a cell phone pouch or a tablet sleeve. There are plenty of options!

“Workbags were essential items for every needlewoman in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 126). This Beginner-level project is a “glittering gold and green work bag.” Jane Austen Embroidery

The Housewife (Huswife or Hussif)

To really try this book out, I decided to make the Harvest Housewife. A “housewife”—pronounced “hussif”—was “a folded, rolled purse-like object with internal compartments for carrying needles and needlework accessories” (66). It could also be used for carrying coins, letters, and other items. Miss Bates finds a letter under her housewife or huswif in Emma.

The housewife, huswife, or hussif was a sewing kit. Jane Austen made one for her sister-in-law and wrote a poem to go with it. This is the project in the book. Jane Austen Embroidery

We also know that Jane Austen made a housewife for her friend Mary Lloyd, which Jane’s nephew James-Edward Austen-Leigh described in his Memoir of Jane Austen.

He wrote:

“Her needlework both plain and ornamental was excellent, and might almost have put a sewing machine to shame. She was considered especially great in satin stitch. She spent much time in these occupations, and some of her merriest talk was over clothes which she and her companions were making, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for the poor.

There still remains a curious specimen of her needlework made for a sister-in-law, my mother. In a very small bag is deposited a little rolled up housewife, furnished with minikin needles and fine thread. In the housewife is a tiny pocket, and in the pocket is enclosed a slip of paper, on which, written as with a crow quill, are these lines:  

‘This little bag, I hope, will prove

To be not vainly made;

For should you thread and needles want,

It will afford you aid.  

‘And, as we are about to part,

‘T will serve another end:

For, when you look upon this bag,

You’ll recollect your friend.’ 

“It is the kind of article that some benevolent fairy might be supposed to give as a reward to a diligent little girl. The whole is of flowered silk, and having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made seventy years ago; and shows that the same hand which painted so exquisitely with the pen could work as delicately with the needle.”

As far as I can find out, that housewife is no longer around; at least, I could not find pictures of it. The Jane Austen House Museum does have a little needle case, made of cardstock and felt, which Jane Austen made for her niece; that would be fun to try to recreate.

The Georgian Sewing Set includes a needle case, scissors case, and pincushion. The embroidery designs are from patterns for decorating shoes. Jane Austen Embroidery

My Project

The housewife was definitely an advanced project. Putting together all the pockets and attachments inside was complicated. I asked Alison for a photo of the finished product to help me out, which she cheerfully supplied (see my blog). In the end, however, I made my own modifications to it, so it would hold cross-stich supplies. That was fun and worked well.

The samples in the book are beautifully hand-sewn with silk fabric and threads. However, my money and time are limited, so I decided to use cheaper fabric, DMC thread, and a sewing machine. I spent less than $20. The book lists substitute colors for those who want to use DMC or Anchor thread instead of silks.

I was very pleased with the results. For details, see my post on my blog. My experience shows that you do not need to be an expert stitcher, or spend a lot of money, to make beautiful projects with this book.

My “housewife,” made with inexpensive materials, opened out. See my blog for more detail.

Next I may make an easier project, for myself.

Check this book out if you love sewing and love Jane Austen. Or, give it to your friends who do.

Happy sewing!

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin is published by Dover Publications in the US and Canada, and by Pavilion Books in the UK.

Photographs from the book are by Penny Wincer; used by permission.

You can find Jennie’s fascinating talk on “Crafting with Jane Austen” at Jane Austen & Co. (Go down to the Staying Home with Jane Austen series, then click through the videos listed horizontally below that until you get to “Crafting with Jane Austen.”)

Jennie Batchelor’s website also links to other talks she has given.

Alison Larkin’s website includes blog posts on Georgian embroidery and lovely images

See also my post on Making a Housewife Sewing Organizer.

Last month, I wrote about Pin Money, or allowances, in Jane Austen’s life and novels. This time, I’m looking more closely at the importance of money in a genteel woman’s life and how it plays out in Austen’s novels.

Money is one obvious way parents could put limits on their children and keep them under control. This happened to both sexes for various reasons in Jane Austen’s time, but it carried even more weight for a woman because there were also financial consequences that came with marriage once she left her father’s home, even if she came from a wealthy family.

At that time in England, husbands had complete control over the finances of their wives. Without an adequate personal budget to spend as she liked, a wife had to go to her husband to ask for money to buy anything and everything she might need. Without a set allowance, wives could find themselves in a very difficult or unhappy position. This is one of many reasons why the marriage settlement (or prenuptial agreement) was so crucial because it was one way fathers could make sure their daughters (and grandchildren) were taken care of financially.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, 1996.

Marriage Settlements

A young woman from a wealthy family would obviously qualify for better marriage terms than a young woman with very little. Her father could leverage what his daughter brought to the marriage for a highly favorable marriage settlement, allowing for her to have the pin money she needed, portions for her children, and a widow’s pension in the event that her husband died. Young women who did not bring as much to the marriage would have a smaller personal budget or, in some cases, no personal budget whatsoever.

In Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew, he writes, “Typically the bride’s family would have their lawyers negotiate with the husband’s lawyers, to get the husband to agree to grant her ‘pin money,’ which was a small personal annual allowance while he lived, a hefty chunk of property or money to support her after he died, and ‘portions’ of money for their children. All this would be written up in the ‘marriage settlement’ by the lawyers before anybody walked down any aisles.”

In JASNA’s Persuasions, you can read all about The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World. (For more on marriage settlements and marriage law in the Regency Era, please see the resources at the end of this article.)

Marriage Settlement, Mills College Library Heller Rare Book Room, Special Collections. Photo by Rachel Dodge, 2019.

Money Matters in Jane Austen’s Novels

In each of Austen’s novels, we find intriguing scenes that relate to women and personal money. Each of these examples shows us just how important it was for a woman to have her own money and the problems (and dangers) that could arise if she did not have any money or ran out of money, especially if she was away from home:

Fanny Price’s £10

In Fanny’s case in Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas supplies her with money before she leaves for her journey to visit her family in Portsmouth:

It had very early occurred to her that a small sum of money might, perhaps, restore peace for ever on the sore subject of the silver knife, canvassed as it now was continually, and the riches which she was in possession of herself, her uncle having given her £10 at parting, made her as able as she was willing to be generous.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Harriet Smith’s Purse

In Emma, we see evidence of Harriet Smith’s allowance, which comes in handy when she meets the “trampers” on the road:

More and more frightened, she immediately promised them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more, or to use her ill.

Emma, Jane Austen
“The terror … was then their own portion.” Illustration by C.E. Brock.

Lydia and Kitty Bennet’s Mismanagement

In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Kitty spend their pin money money at the shops and must borrow money from Elizabeth and Jane when they surprise them for a meal at the inn in Hertfordshire:

“And we mean to treat you all,” added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.” Then, showing her purchases—“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.”

Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Nancy Steele’s Fright

In Sense and Sensibility, we find this intriguing passage about the Steele sisters and personal money when Nancy Steele must go to Mrs. Jennings for money after Lucy borrows all of Nancy’s money and marries Robert Ferrars:

Not a soul suspected anything of the matter, not even Nancy, who, poor soul! came crying to me the day after, in a great fright for fear of Mrs. Ferrars, as well as not knowing how to get to Plymouth; for Lucy it seems borrowed all her money before she went off to be married, on purpose we suppose to make a show with, and poor Nancy had not seven shillings in the world…

Mrs. Jennings, Sense and Sensibility
Lucy Steele (Anna Madeley) and Anne, or “Nancy,” Steele (Daisy Haggardand), Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Catherine Morland’s Borrowed Fare

In Northanger Abbey, money becomes quite important in a crucial moment. First, money is mentioned when Catherine Morland goes to Bath. Her parents send her with money for her personal expenses and ask her to keep account of her spending:

I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose.”

Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey

Money is mentioned again when Catherine is suddenly and unexpectedly sent home from Northanger Abbey. While she is in Bath, she is under the care of her hosts, the Allens, who would, of course, pay for many of her expenses while she is under their roof and their protection. However, once she goes to Northanger, she is essentially under the care and protection of General Tilney. When he sends her home abruptly, he does not provide the funds necessary for her journey home, leaving her in a very precarious and even dangerous situation. This was a terrible oversight on his part. Thankfully, Eleanor is able to provide the funds, which we may assume is from her own personal allowance:

It had occurred to her that after so long an absence from home, Catherine might not be provided with money enough for the expenses of her journey, and, upon suggesting it to her with most affectionate offers of accommodation, it 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 from the house without even the means of getting home; and the distress in which she must have been thereby involved filling the minds of both, scarcely another word was said by either during the time of their remaining together.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Catherine makes it home safely and repays the money to Eleanor by mail with only a short note: “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.”

The Morlands, a very practical bunch, decide after a bit that it all ended well in the end, but even they cannot understand such a “breach of conduct” on General Tilney’s part:

They were far from being an irritable race; far from any quickness in catching, or bitterness in resenting, affronts: but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult not to be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned.

Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel … 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 . . . was a matter which they were at least as far from divining as Catherine herself…

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Mrs. Smith’s Recovered Property

In Persuasion, we turn our attention to the widowed Mrs. Smith, whose husband had badly mismanaged their finances: “She was a widow and poor. Her husband had been extravagant; and at his death, about two years before, had left his affairs dreadfully involved.” In this situation, it is not just Mrs. Smith’s personal finances that are at stake, but her finances at large. Here, we see Captain Wentworth use his influence to work on her behalf and help improve her financial circumstances. At the end of the novel, we read this:

[Mrs. Smith] was their earliest visitor in their settled life; and Captain Wentworth, by putting her in the way of recovering her husband’s property in the West Indies, by writing for her, acting for her, and seeing her through all the petty difficulties of the case with the activity and exertion of a fearless man and a determined friend, fully requited the services which she had rendered, or ever meant to render, to his wife.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

When we look at the parents, guardians, husbands, and friends in the examples above, it’s clear that Austen uses money matters (just as she uses so many other clever devices) to point to character and propriety. We could go through each novel and study each of the male and female characters and surmise quite a bit about their personalities just from the way they each manage money.

It’s clear that the characters in Austen’s books who provide well for their wives, children, and friends–and those who are generous and charitable with their money–are the characters we should admire and respect. Conversely, those who handle their money poorly–and those who manipulate and use and abuse others for financial gain or for personal control–are the characters we should distrust and, in some cases, even despise. In Austen’s novels, money matters.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.


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