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Spring is a time for gift giving in my family: birthdays, holidays, hostess thank you’s, and Mother’s Day gifts all enter into the equation. This is a perfect time to consider the bounty of choices in stores and online. Museum gift shops have been a particularly good source during my gift hunts.

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Jane Austen playing cards with instructions on how to play regency card games. Find the item on Amazon, Walmart, and online gift stores. Amazon provides detailed photos of the cards and instructional booklet by John Mullan.




A major benefit for adults who color in coloring books or who draw their own images is that those acts switch our brains from a state of anxiety or stress to creativity and calm. Those Zen moments provide our minds with a mini-vacation from our daily concerns to focus on a pleasurable skill.

Jane Austen: Wit & Wisdom to Color and Display, illustrated by Kimma Parish, is a such an example. (Click on images for closeup and comments). Her fanciful outlines represent flowers, landscapes, feathers, tea cups – those objects that evoke Austen’s novels. Each image is printed on one side of the page to allow the colorist to work on a single page and give the finished product to a friend or loved one. I found this book at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, but it is also available online and in book stores. (Note: Children are encouraged to draw and color on blank pages to improve their fine motor skills and nurture their creativity. Coloring books have a place in their development, but should not be the sole means of expressing their creativity. In contrast, adult coloring books are more intricate and are made for a different purpose.)

Jane Odiwe describes her delightful Effusions of Fancy in an article for the Jane Austen Centre online. I have cherished this book, generously sprinkled with Odiwe’s watercolors, since it was first published in 2003. (Click on the images for detail.) The bag, made from a sturdy denim and lined with orange cotton, is the product of The Unemployed Philosophers Guild. This 9″x6″ bag can be used for many purposes, but I kept Cassandra Austen in mind when filling it and have used it for those moments when I want to quickly sketch an idea or thought.

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This gorgeously illustrated coloring book entitled Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: A coloring classic portrays scenes from P&P as well as fanciful drawings of gloves, jewelry, fans, and feathers.

Drawn in lush detail by Chellie Carroll, this Pride & Prejudice coloring book is larger than Wit & Wisdom. The drawings are printed on both sides of each page, however, so the pages cannot be dismantled without ruining the pairing of saying and illustrations. But the pages are thick and can absorb the application of gouache or watercolor with a brush if applied with a not-too wet technique. An added benefit at the end of the book is a three-page spread entitled “The Language of Flowers.”

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Ball scene spread over two pages. 

In conclusion, one does not need to scour museum, gift, or book shops to find these lovely items, for they are all available online (although I do like the physical journey). Enjoy sketching painting, playing, and coloring!

Easter Egg Traditions

Happy Easter, gentle readers. Eastertide was an important time for the devout Austen family, as it is for Christians today. Over the centuries, more secular activities were included in the celebrations. This morning we are anticipating the annual Easter egg hunt for the children in our family. 

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Naturally colored eggs from different chicken breeds. Wikimedia Commons contribution from ViacheslavVladmirivichNetsvetaev

Easter Eggs:

Early Christians viewed eggs as representing new life and rebirth.This belief had a biological reason.  Chickens require from 14 to 16 hours of sunlight every day to produce eggs regularly.The lack of daylight and cooler temperatures in fall and winter prompts a change in  their ovaries, resulting in fewer eggs in late fall and winter.

As daylight lengthened in early February, egg laying increased again. By Eastertide, broody hens produced eggs in such abundance that the populace could lay a portion aside for feasting and celebrations.

The arrival of spring also heralded plant growth, budding flowers, and the birth of baby animals. It was a season suited to celebrating fertility and rebirth. The season’s association with eggs makes perfect sense, but what about  the age-old practice of coloring them for Easter?

The practice began centuries ago. Early Christians in Mesopotamia dyed eggs after Easter. This practice, adopted by Orthodox churches in eastern Europe, spread towards the west. (English Heritage). Considering that the holiday celebrates Christ’s resurrection, it makes sense that dyed eggs are also known as resurrection eggs. (Time.com).

Time.com also discusses other theories of the origin of Easter practices, most notably an early Anglo-Saxon festival known as Eastre, which celebrated spring and nature’s renewal wherein eggs played a part. Fasting during Lent was stricter than today’s practice. Abstinence from meat, including dairy, cheese, or milk, must have been an ordeal for those with few dietary choices. In anticipation of the end of Lent, people hard boiled the eggs of chickens and geese and stored them. After Lent, the eggs were eaten and often distributed to the poor, who could not even afford meat for the holidays.

English Heritage mentions that British history traces egg coloring to the 1290’s during Edward I’s reign. He purchased 450 eggs covered in gold leaf for his royal entourage. Over the centuries, elaborately decorated Easter eggs were gifts for royalty, including an egg in a silver case from the Vatican to Henry VIII. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beautifully decorated Fabergé eggs were presented to the Russian royal court. 

As with Christmas traditions, the Victorians influenced evolving Easter traditions, which included more secular, family oriented rituals. They now focused on children as well as the family in general.

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Dyed eggs. Creative commons image.

Coloring Dyes

In times of yore, people used natural dyes to color their eggs. The intensity of the color and the hue itself depended on the coloring agent, the color of the egg (white or brown, for example), and the time taken to immerse the egg in boiling water. Generally, however, natural dyes lent themselves to softer, lighter hues than today’s brighter dyes.

One does not necessarily need to dye eggs. Different breeds of hens produce different colored eggs. In early Christianity, the color red represents Christ’s blood. The tradition of dyeing eggs red was followed faithfully in eastern European countries. 

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Red naturally dyed eggs, detail, OMG foods. See link below. Buff with olive oil for shine.

Creating that deep red with a natural dye can take some  time and effort. One can prepare ahead of time by collecting red and yellow onion skins months prior to dyeing the eggs. Experimenting with the ratio of red and yellow for the preferred color, be it tomato red, a deeper burgundy, or maroon, can also be tried. I’ve read that wrapping a brown egg with red onion skin results in a dark maroon color. The eventual result is striking, however.

I prefer the natural color of the eggs as produced by the different breeds, and the softer hues of natural dyes that are produced by plants and spices. Allrecipes describes how colors are made: shredded beets = purple; yellow onion skins = rust;  ground cumin = yellow; chili powder = orange; spinach = soft green; grape juice = blue; blueberry juice = royal blue; red cabbage = sky blue; and brewed coffee = brown. Keep in mind that white eggs and brown eggs will respond differently to these dyes! Click here to enter the allrecipes article entitled How to Make 9 Natural Easter Egg Dyes.

In addition, Easter Egg Decorating Around the World is a fantastic article that showcases the different egg decorating styles with images and recipes for dyeing or tips on painting. How to Dye Eggs Red Naturally outlines in great detail how to obtain that rich red color.  Food & Drink also discusses: Why do we have Easter eggs? Tradition behind chocolate eggs explained and where they come from. 

Stuffed Easter Bunny with GiftsHappy Easter to you and yours! 

This article comes a little late for dyeing, but we hope that you and your families will attempt some of these techniques over the coming months in anticipation of next year’s celebrations. Ours is celebrating the day with an Easter brunch, an egg hunt for the youngest members (the day is sunny and not too hot!), and a day of family game playing and enjoyment.

Previous Easter articles on this blog: Click on this link. Horwood’s map contains an image of an Easter celebration in London.

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Detail of Easter Monday celebrations in London

When visiting Jane Austen’s England today, you can stroll through the gardens at Chawton House and Jane Austen’s House Museum, explore the churches at Steventon and Chawton, and tour the homes and churches where Jane Austen and her relatives lived and worshipped in Bath and other areas of England. But what about Steventon Rectory (or parsonage) where Jane Austen and her family lived for the first 25 years of her life?

At Steventon, you can see the site of the rectory and get an idea of where it used to sit before it was torn down in the 1820s. It’s a beautiful spot in the lovely Hampshire countryside. And there’s more to see than just the fields and lanes where Austen grew up.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well is the only visible remnant of that house.

If you drive up the tree-canopied lane further, you come to St. Nicholas Church, where Jane’s father preached and where Jane and her family attended church. The church is usually open for visitors who want to look or sit or reflect.

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo @ Rachel Dodge.

The Rectory Landscape

Though we can’t take a tour of the gardens and property surrounding the Rectory, we do have detailed descriptions available to help us imagine what it once was like.

Deirdre Le Faye paints a descriptive picture of the Rectory garden in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels: “Mr. Austen’s study was at the back of the house, on the warm southern side, overlooking the walled garden with its sundial, espaliered fruit trees, vegetable and flower beds and grassy walks.” Green meadows stretched beyond it, dotted with livestock.

In A Memoir of Jane Austen, James Edward Austen-Leigh provides this further description of the landscape surrounding the Rectory:

“[T]he neighbourhood had its beauties of rustic lanes and hidden nooks; and Steventon, from the fall of the ground and the abundance of its timber, was one of the prettiest spots in it… It stood ‘in a shallow valley, surrounded by sloping meadows, well sprinkled with elm-trees, at the end of a small village of cottages, each well provided with a garden, scattered about prettily on either side of the road…”

Parsonage, Steventon

Austen-Leigh continues with this: “North of the house, the road from Deane to Popham Lane ran at a sufficient distance from the front to allow a carriage drive, through turf and trees. On the south side, the ground rose gently and was occupied by one of those old-fashioned gardens in which vegetables and flowers are combined, flanked and protected on the east by one of the thatched mud walls common in that country, and overshadowed by fine elms. Along the upper or southern side of the garden ran a terrace of the finest turf…”

Improvements

In Jane Austen’s England, Maggie Lane provides several details about the changes the Austens made during their residency there. She says one of the “constant themes of discussion at Steventon Rectory was ‘improvement.’ Much had been done even before Jane’s birth, but throughout her twenty-five years’ residence there her parents were enthusiastically planting and landscaping their modest grounds.”

The following are some of the grander changes the Austens made to the landscape:

  • They planted a “screen” of chestnuts and spruce fir to “shut out the view of the farm building.”
  • They cut “an imposing carriage ‘sweep’ through the turf to the front door.”
  • The Church Walk – a “broad hedgerow of mixed timber and shrub, carpeted by wild flowers and wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath for the greater shelter and privacy of the family in their frequent walks to the church.”
  • The Elm Walk (or Wood Walk) – a similar hedgerow walk that skirted the meadows and included the “occasional rustic seat” where “weary stollers” could sit or rest.

In Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, he provides further details about the walks and hedgerows:

“But the chief beauty of Steventon consisted in its hedgerows. A hedgerow in that country does not mean a thin formal line of quickset, but an irregular border of copse-wood and timber, often wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath, or a rough cart-track. Under its shelter the earliest primroses, anemones, and wild hyacinths were to be found; sometimes the first bird’s nest; and, now and then, the unwelcome adder. Two such hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled ‘The Wood Walk.’ The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of ‘The Church Walk,’ because it led to the parish church…”

Hampshire is still breathtaking; scenes like these give us a sense of the greenery and vegetation Austen might have known.

In October 1800, Jane wrote to Cassandra about the improvements her parents were undertaking at the time: “Our improvements have advanced very well; the bank along the elm wall is sloped down for the reception of thorns and lilacs, and it is settled that the other side of the path is to continue turfed, and to be planted with beech, ash, and larch.”

In November, she wrote again: “Hacker has been here to-day putting in the fruit trees. A new plan has been suggested concerning the plantation of the new inclosure (sic) of the right-hand side of the elm walk: the doubt is whether it would be better to make a little orchard of it by planting apples, pears, and cherries, or whether it should be larch, mountain ash, and acacia.”

Reading these descriptions, it’s easy to see why Jane Austen included “improvements” to the grounds of the estates featured in so many of her novels.

Food and Livestock

However, the Austens didn’t just improve their land to make it more pleasing to the eye or pleasurable for walking. Lane tells us that “the garden at Steventon Rectory was a happy compromise between fashionable ideas and down-to-earth utility – typical of the balanced Austen approach to life.”

In Mrs. Austen’s garden, “vegetables and flowers [were] combined” to balance beauty and provision. One can imagine how the garden must have looked in the spring, summer, and fall, with its tangled profusion of color.

Today, “companion planting” is popular for many gardeners who include flowers among their vegetables.

Beyond the gardens around the Rectory, the Austens kept livestock and grew crops. Mrs. Austen oversaw the poultry-yard and the dairy: “She supervised making all the butter and cheese, baking all the bread and brewing all the beer and wine required by a large household. With the exception of such commodities as tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, the Austens were virtually self-sufficient in food.” As for Rev. Austen, he grew “oats, barley and wheat, and reared cattle, pigs and sheep” and was able to “not only feed his family, but to sell the surplus.” (Lane)

“All the fruit, vegetables, and herbs consumed by the family were raised here. The Austens’ strawberry fields were famous, and Mrs. Austen was one of the first people in the neighbourhood to grow potatoes.” Taking this all into account, we get a better idea of the gardens and food Jane Austen enjoyed in her youth.

Today, strawberry crops are still grown and produced in Hampshire.

Reading these descriptions of the land surrounding Steventon Rectory can help us better envision what the gardens and fields looked like when Austen was growing up. It’s lovely to try to imagine where she walked and read and thought and imagined; what foods she ate; and what her parents did.

If there ever was a fundraising campaign I could get behind, it would be to someday see a replica (or a scale model) built of the Steventon Rectory and its surrounding gardens. Wouldn’t that be something? For now, I’ll keep dreaming and imagining, which almost just as nice.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the Steventon Rectory and its garden and farm, you can read “Why Was Jane Austen Sent away to School at Seven? An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question” in Persuasions On-Line by Linda Robinson Walker.


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 Devotional, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Cassidy Percoco

Inquiring Readers: guest author, Cassidy Percoco, submitted this informative article about duels during the Regency era. Enjoy!

The duel is a staple of Regency fiction, whether classic (Colonel Brandon and Willoughby’s duel in Sense and Sensibility) or contemporary (Bridgerton, of course). It’s tempting to think of it as a literary device, but in fact duels were an accepted aspect of upper-class and upper-middle-class life, though the vast majority of gentlemen never fought or even witnessed one.

The duel had been introduced to England from Italy in the sixteenth century, and quickly spread along with other Italian notions of courtesy and civility. These new ideas, which were coming to replace the older traditions of chivalry and courtly love, would become entrenched and end up becoming the standard for gentlemanly behavior for centuries. Where chivalry had been focused on aristocratic men proving their honor through their behavior toward women (or at least high-born ladies), these new standards included a great deal of focus on men proving their honor in relation to other men – and in theory, all gentlemen, whether nobly born or of the gentry, were equal in this.

The major proof of one’s own honor was being seen to behave civilly toward other men acknowledged as honorable, and having them behave civilly toward oneself. A gentleman’s reputation was of paramount importance, and any action taken by someone else to threaten that reputation – a direct insult made to his face, or a slander made behind his back – was a problem. Being hit by another gentleman or being accused of lying were two insults that were frequently seen as so intense that they required a duel to settle. However, not all provocation was so clearly endangering to the reputation: any argument could theoretically lead to a duel if one or both participants became incensed enough, although most of the time gentlemen made allowances for each other to avoid actually coming to the field over simple mistakes like being jostled in the street, as being too eager to duel could also be a strike against one’s reputation.

If the insult came from a servant, pauper, or tradesman, there was no shame in responding immediately with one-sided violence, but when it came from another man of honor, the most appropriate way to repair the hurt was for both parties to meet in a duel at a later time, and to fight (generally with swords, until the 1780s) to wounding or even death. This required “seconds,” gentlemen who assisted the combatants by acting as go-betweens and arranging the time and place of the duel. But on another level, the second’s assistance was in being a gentleman who provided assurance that a duelist was also a gentleman himself, since engaging in a duel with someone who technically was not eligible would have been shameful. The duel was so associated with the nobility and gentry that the idea of tradesmen engaging in one was seen as very humorous. The London Times printed numerous stories (almost certainly fictional) relating duels held by florists, tailors, and the like, always showing some cowardice or intemperance to prove that dueling was really the province of gentlemen.

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Portrait of an aristocratic man. Copyrighted image courtesy of Cassidy Percoco, illustrated by Joanne Renaud.

The British government opposed the practice strenuously, imposing penalties on those who were caught dueling or who intended to duel. Killing a man in the heat of passion (which did apply to some earlier duels) could lead to the reduced charge of manslaughter, but the decision to defer immediate violence in favor of a fight at an appointed time and place later meant that deaths from dueling were considered cold-blooded murder. However, the sovereigns tended to pardon convicted duelists, and there was overall a widespread tolerance for violent behavior on the part of gentlemen, whether aimed at each other or their social inferiors. As long as a duel was considered a fair and honorable attempt to satisfy honor, a duelist who killed his opponent could generally avoid consequences. On the other hand, a duel seen as a malicious attempt to kill someone was not given the same tolerance. For instance, a duel between a Major Campbell and a Captain Boyd in Scotland in 1808 was fought in a closed room with no seconds, and resulted in Captain Boyd being fatally wounded; on his deathbed, Boyd accused Campbell of having rushed him into such an unorthodox duel against his wishes, and as a result, Campbell was actually executed.

512px-thumbnail-Dueling pistols

French cased duelling pistols, Nicolas Noel Boutet, single shot, flintlock, rifled, .58 caliber, blued steel, Versailles, 1794-1797 – Royal Ontario Museum – Public domain image by Daderot, Wikimedia Commons.

By the time of the Regency, pistols were the preferred weapon in British duels. They were seen as more equitable, as they required less training to wield than the sword – while some might be expert marksmen, there was less likelihood of a pistol duel being decided by one participant having greater skill. Pistols could also be fitted with hair triggers to fire before a duelist was necessarily ready, and the terms of a duel often required both duelists to simultaneously bring the firearm to bear and fire in one movement to force the shooters not to aim. While some gentlemen were known to purchase dueling pistols with rifling in the barrel to increase their accuracy, and to practice target shooting to improve their own ability, this was strongly deplored.

What was important for the restoration of honor was going through the formula of the challenge, the seconds’ deliberations, and the shooting: it was not important to actually hit, let alone kill, one’s opponent by the time of the Regency. A gentleman who had been insulted needed to be willing to stand up with a pistol to prove his honor or he might be thought weak, and a gentleman who had given insult needed to allow himself to be shot at (rather than apologize) so as not to be thought a coward. While duels sometimes ran to multiple volleys of fire, an initial exchange of bullets without harm could often satisfy the needs of honor.

Dueling had always been particularly associated with military officers, as men born into the gentry and aristocracy were both familiar with weapons and put a high price on honor, and as a result, there was an increase in reported duels during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, particularly in London and in port cities where troops might be quartered. In the following decades, however, the practice died out in Britain. Tolerance for aristocratic violence decreased, and at the same time, the barriers between rich and poor increased such that there was less need to show “honor” as a conspicuous sign of class. Modern mid-nineteenth-century men were restrained workaholics, not impulsive and dissolute rakes, and they had a respect for official hierarchy and the rules. The duel would be left behind as a relic of a chaotic and romantic past.

Further reading:

Stephen Banks, A Polite Exchange of Bullets: The Duel and the English Gentleman, 1750–1850 (The Boydell Press, 2010)

Markku Peltonen, The Duel in Early Modern England: Civility, Politeness, and Honour (Cambridge University press, 2003)

Victor Kiernan, The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy (Oxford University Press, 1988)

About the Author:

Cassidy Percoco has been focused on history from the time she was a child. After graduating with an MA in Fashion and Textiles: History, Theory, and Museum Practice from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she embarked on a career in museum collections management, and today she works at the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY. She has previously published Regency Women’s Dress: Techniques and Patterns, 1800-1830, and runs Mimic of Modes Historic Patterns.

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Portraits of roles in Dandies & Dandyzettes. Copyright image courtesy of Cassidy Percoco, illustrated by Joanne Renaud.

A Regency tabletop role-playing game

The topic of dueling is discussed in Dandies & Dandyzettes, a new tabletop role-playing game for one to many players now being funded on Kickstarter. In Dandies & Dandyzettes, players can step into the past and become anyone they can imagine, from a duel-hungry officer to a lady-in-waiting to the queen to a Cheapside lawyer and his family. The book also works as a detailed guide to the world of Regency Britain, from honor ideologies to the specifics of how to send a letter. 

I own quite a few copies of each of Jane Austen’s novels. Many are annotated, some are old editions or designed for children. Others are illustrated with different artists, many of whom are well known. Most recently I purchased Sense and Sensibility (hardcover), and Pride and Prejudice and Emma (kindle.) All three are illustrated by one of my favorite wildlife artists, Marjolein Bastin, who is known worldwide for her delicate watercolors and gorgeous depictions of flowers, birds, and animals from the field. Click on images below to view some of the beautiful illustrations up close.

photo of Marjolijn Bastin

Illustrator Marjolein Bastin

While Ms Bastin’s painting subjects do not at first seem aligned with Austen’s stories, they are as romantically gorgeous as the author’s prose. They are, in fact, perfect gifts for introducing family members and friends to your favorite author. Considering Austen’s upbringing in Steventon and the countryside and her final years in Chawton Cottage, these images in  Ms Bastin’s portfolio are suited to evoking the countryside in soft, beautiful strokes.

Certainly purchasing a hardback is the best choice, for such a book is tactile, allowing us to finger the pages, and flip back and forth to reread a passage. Hardback books last a long time and remain in good condition much longer than a paperback. In Sense and Sensibility’s edition, gifts of inserts appeared at random throughout the chapters – note the postcard in figure four above!

Online books also have their good features, however. They are portable. I can read them on several devices any time and any place where I have connectivity. My iPad and smart phone allow me to read at night without light, and to change the font size to suit my eyes. While one can find particular passages, the tactile joy of reading a book is gone. When purchasing these books, one does not own them. You are only renting them.

Plus, digital volumes are hidden inside a tablet or computer, while my hardbacks are given logical designations inside my bookcases. I can feast my eyes on them at will and run my fingertips lovingly along their spines. Below are the covers and inserts from my digital books.

More information about illustrated books & illustrators:

About Marjolein Bastin:

Marjolein’s work is enjoyed the world over. In addition to her partnership with Hallmark, she provides ongoing contributions to Libelle, as well as a variety of product partners in Europe and North America. She and her husband Gaston divide their time between country homes in Holland, Switzerland and in Missouri, near Hallmark’s headquarters, as well a tropical retreat in the Cayman Islands. Each setting provides a unique glimpse of what nature has to offer throughout the world.

My personal story: My mother (Moeder) filled a Bastin Dutch birthday calendar of her friends and relatives. This is how I got to know the artist. (My first cousin’s name is Marjolijn.) See the calendar front page below in Dutch.

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