Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cassandra Austen’

Portrait of Maria Edgeworth by John Downman (1807). Is it just wishful thinking on my part or does Jane Austen somewhat resemble this pretty, genteel author?

I’m sure others have been struck by this paragraph from Pride and Prejudice (see quote below), and wondered if perhaps it gives us a clue about how Cassandra was able to locate the many letters from Jane that she would destroy, for the majority of those that survived are innocuous and mundane. They reveal very little about the author’s observations and feelings about her family and friends, politics, and religion.

Cassandra, who outlived Jane by 26 years, kept her sister’s letters to reread during her lifetime. This gave her enough time to decide what to do with them. She burned most of Jane’s letters shortly before her death, redistributing the remaining few among friends and family.

Of the approximately 160 letters that survive from Jane, 95 were written to Cassandra. None of the letters Jane wrote to her parents survive, and very few to her brothers (none to Henry, her favorite brother). To be fair to Cassandra, who has been vilified by many for burning so many of Jane’s letters, it was the custom in those days to destroy such casual correspondence (much like we delete emails today).

A portion of Jane’s letter has been cut out. Image@Morgan Library

When they read their missives out loud to the family, the Austen sisters had a habit of censoring each other’s letters and leaving out sections that were meant to remain private.  Jane might have given us a clue in Pride and Prejudice on how Cassandra was able to go through thousands of letters and locate information that she was unwilling to pass down for posterity. In some instances Cassandra cut out the offending sentence, but generally she destroyed the entire letter. How did she know where to cut out only one sentence or passage?

This scene, in which Lydia has joined Colonel and Mrs. Foster in Brighton, gives us a clue:

When Lydia went away she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty, but her letters were always long expected and always very short. Those to her mother contained little else than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as made her quite wild; that she had a new gown or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs Forster called her and they were going to the camp; and from her correspondence with her sister there was still less to be learned, for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.

Reading out loud

Note how Kitty could not reveal the words and sentences that Lydia had underscored with lines, even to the family. Did Jane use such a system with Cassandra to keep her private thoughts only for her sister?  I’m curious to know.

Read Full Post »

Fashionable mourning dresses, Ladies Museum, 1805

According to Jane Austen chronicler and scholar, David Nokes, when Martha Lloyd’s mother died on April 16, 1805, Jane Austen showed few signs of grief or emotion over that woman’s earthly departure. Instead, Jane wrote a jaunty verse to an uncivil (and imaginary) dressmaker. I surmise that these verses were meant more to cheer Martha up than to bring Martha’s mood down by reminding her of her loss. Mrs Austen, who was known for her droll verses, wrote a mythical reply by the dressmaker. At this time the Austen women were still reeling from Rev. Austen’s death in January and their own change in financial circumstances, having moved to more modest lodgings and becoming accustomed to a drastically reduced style of life. They would soon invite Martha to live with them in Bath. (Martha would remain with the Austen women through their move to Southampton in 1809.) After Jane’s death in 1817, Martha joined Cassandra in Chawton to help look after Mrs. Austen.

The poem that Jane wrote gives us a glimpse into how mourning clothes were made to order quickly. In this for-instance, the dressmaker, Miss Green, was slow to respond.

Lines sent to an uncivil Dress maker

Miss Lloyd has now sent to Miss Green,
As, on opening the box, may be seen,
Some yards of a Black Ploughman’s Gauze,
To be made up directly, because
Miss Lloyd must in mourning appear –
For the death of a Relative dear –
Miss Lloyd must expect to receive
This license to mourn & to grieve,
Complete, er’e the end of the week –
It is better to write than to speak – Jane Austen

Mrs. Austen’s reply as Miss Green

I’ve often made clothes
For those who write prose,
But ’tis the first time
I’ve had orders in rhyme – .
Depend on’t, fair Maid,
You shall be obeyed;
Your garment of black
Shall sit close to your back,
And in every part
I’ll exert all my art;
It shall be the neatest,
And eke the completest
That ever was seen –
Or my name is not Green! – Mrs. Cassandra Austen

Read Full Post »

Copryright (c) Jane Austen’s World. This post is in honor of Thanksgiving and all the cooks, feminine or masculine, who toil hard in the kitchen to feed their families on this special holiday.

I am sure that the ladies there had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving-pan” – James Edward Austen-Leigh, writing about his aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen, and grandmother, Mrs Austen, when they lived at Steventon Rectory.

18th century kitchen servants prepare a meal. Image @Jane Austen Cookbook

In 1747, Mrs.Hannah Glasse wrote her historic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, an easy-to-understand cookbook for the lower class chefs who cooked for the rich. Her recipes were simple and came with detailed instructions, a revolutionary thought at the time.

The Art of Cookery’s first distinction was simplicity – simple instructions, accessible ingredients, an accent on thrift, easy recipes and practical help with weights and timing. Out went the bewildering text of former cookery books (“pass it off brown” became “fry it brown in some good butter”; “draw him with parsley” became “throw some parsley over him”). Out went French nonsense: no complicated patisserie that an ordinary cook could not hope to cook successfully. Glasse took into account the limitations of the average middle-class kitchen: the small number of staff, the basic cooking equipment, limited funds. – Hannah Glasse, The Original Domestic Goddess forum

Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Until Mrs. Glasse wrote her popular cookery book (17 editions appeared in the 18th century), these instructional books had been largely written by male chefs who offered complicated French recipes without detailed or practical directions. (To see what I mean, check Antonin Careme’s recipe for Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesle at this link.) Like Jane Austen, Hannah signed her books “By a Lady”.

Antonin Careme's cookbook

Mrs. Glasse had always intended to sell her cookery book to mistresses of gentry families or the rising middle class, who would then instruct their cooks to prepare foods from her simplified recipes, which she collected. “My Intention is to instruct the lower Sort [so that] every servant who can read will be capable of making a tolerable good Cook,” she wrote in her preface.

Frontispiece from William Augustus Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 6th edition, c.1800. This same picture appeared in the very first edition of c.1791and it shows the mistress presenting the cookery book to her servant, while a young man is instructed in the art of carving with the aid of another book.*

Hanna’s revolutionary approach, which included the first known printed recipe for curry and instructions for making a hamburger, made sense. In the morning, it was the custom of the mistress of the household to speak to the cook or housekeeper about the day’s meals and give directions for the day. The servants in turn would interpret her instructions. (Often their mistress had to read the recipes to them, for many lower class people still could not read.)

In theory, the recipes from Hannah’s cookbook would help the lady of the house stay out of the kitchen and enjoy a few moments of free time. But the servant turnover rate was high and often the mistress had to roll up her sleeves and actively participate in the kitchen. Many households with just two or three servants could not afford a mistress of leisure, and they, like Mrs. Austen in the kitchens of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage, would toil alongside their cook staff.

The simple kitchen at Chawton cottage. Image @Tony Grant

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still prevailed in genteel households. As the century progressed, more and more women like Hannah Glasse began to write cookery books that offered not only simpler versions of French recipes, but instructions for making traditional English pies, tarts, and cakes as well. Compared to the expensive cookbooks written by male chefs, cookery books written by women were quite affordable, for they were priced between 2 s. and 6 d.

Hannah Glasse's practical directions for boiling and broiling

Publishers took advantage of the brisk trade, for with the changes in agricultural practices,  food was becoming more abundant for the rising middle classes. Large editions of cheap English cookery books by a variety of female cooks were distributed to a wide new audience of less wealthy and largely female readers who had money to spend on food. Before Hannah Glasse and her cohort, cooks and housewives  had been accustomed to sharing recipes in private journals (such as Marthat Lloyd’s) or handing them down by word-of-mouth.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for caraway cake written in her journal.

Female authors tended to share their native English recipes in their cookery books. As the century progressed, the content of these cookery books began to change. Aside from printing recipes, these books began to include medical instructions for poultices and the like; bills of fare for certain seasons or special gatherings; household and marketing tips; etc.

Bill of fare for November, The Universal Cook, 1792

By the end of the 18th century, cookery books also included heavy doses of servant etiquette and moral advice. At this time plain English fare had replaced French cuisine, although wealthy households continued to employ French chefs as expensive status symbols.  In the mid-19th century cookery books that targeted the working classes, such as Mrs. Beeton’s famous book on Household Management, began to be serialized in magazines, as well as published in book form.

Family at meal time

Before ending this post, I would like to refer you back to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s quote at top. In contrast to what he wrote (for he did not know his aunts or grandmother well), Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane reminds us that housewives who consulted with their cook and housekeeper  about the day’s meals still felt comfortable working in the kitchen. She writes in Jane Austen and Food:

“though they may not have stirred the pot or the pan themselves, Mrs. Austen and her daughters perfectly understood what was going on within them…The fact that their friend and one-time house-mate Martha Lloyd made a collection of recipes to which Mrs. Austen contributed is proof that the processes of cookery were understood by women of their class.”

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Post written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

The pencil and watercolour picture Cassandra made of Jane Austen in about 1810, is in the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, just off Trafalgar Square. It is unique within the exhibits there because, although it is grouped with other 18th century portraits, it is displayed in a glass case on a plinth in the general concourse of room 18. It is not hung on the walls with her other contemporaries.

Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen, pencil and watercolour, circa 1810

The portrait is also unique in another way. It is the only portrait within the gallery made by an amateur. All the other portraits are of famous politicians, the lords and ladies of the time, rich merchants and industrialists, and the powerful. They were painted for a particular purpose by professional artists, some of whom, like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence, were the best, most sort after and amongst the most brilliant artists of their day. Cassandra, was an ordinary, lower middle class person dabbling in sketching and painting for her own interest and edification. A pastime, thousands of other ladies participated in, along with playing the pianoforte, singing and dancing. It was an important element in their home entertainment. We can only guess as to why Cassandra drew a portrait of Jane on that day in 1810 and for what purpose. The drawing and painting process, techniques and style of famous artists like Reynolds , Gainsborough and Lawrence can be found out through evidence and documents, expert analysis of their paintings and by charting their careers as painters. How Cassandra sketched can only be surmised. But one thing is for sure, you can look at her sketch of Jane carefully and there are no apparent errors or mistakes. There is no working out on the picture. It is a finished product. So how did Cassandra produce it and what does it tell you and I about Jane and Cassandra?

From where I live it is an interesting journey to The National Portrait Gallery. I go out of my front door, turn right and walk for five hundred yards, past the newsagents, butchers, chemist and green grocers in Motspur Park, to the station. Motspur Park being part of the London Borough of Merton and next to the town of Wimbledon. It’s famous for the London University playing fields and athletics track and it is home to Fulham Football Club’s training ground. The one-minute mile was nearly broken at the London University track here in the 1950’s.before it was eventually achieved at Oxford.

The train journey from Motspur Park, passing through, Raynes Park, Wimbledon, Earlsfield, Clapham Junction, Vauxhall and Waterloo takes about twenty minutes. It is sixteen miles to the centre of London from where I live.

Waterloo Station. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Waterloo Station is an Edwardian masterpiece of acres of glass roof corrugated like a sea of glass waves. Beneath its roof, during the April of 1912, the rich and wealthy caught the boat train to Southampton Docks and then bordered The Titanic. Millions of soldiers between 1914 and 1918 caught troop trains to the same Southampton Docks to board troop ships for France and the trenches. In the Second World War, the same again. Millions of troops travelled from Waterloo to Southampton to sail to Normandy. In Waterloo the ghosts of the past begin to cling to your consciousness like suffocating cobwebs. The giant concourse clock hanging from the roof reminds you of the lovers trysts famously enacted beneath it’s ticking mechanism from the time the station began.

Villiers Street. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Walking out of Waterloo station on to the South bank and the breezes of The River Thames brings it’s ghosts too, of millennia’s of people, famous, infamous, notorious and where many events throughout history took place. You walk across the pedestrian path attached to Hungerford Railway Bridge across which Virginia Woolf walked and along Villiers Street next to Charring Cross Station and past where Rudyard Kipling lived when he came back from India, past the house where Herman Melville lived for a short while and past the house where Benjamin Franklin lived for many years with his common law wife and wrote, printed, invented and had revolutionary ideas.

Twinings. Image @Tony Grant

You go past where Charles Dickens had his office for Household Words, past the recumbent statue to Oscar Wilde, “I may be in the gutter but I’m looking at the stars.,” past Twinings, where Jane Austen bought her tea, past the present day protest outside Zimbabwe House to the atrocities that are happening, as I write, in that country, past St Martins in the Fields,…

 

Trafalgar Square. Image @Wikimedia Commons

… then into Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column, Landseers giant lions and round the side of The National Gallery and into the entrance of The National Portait gallery in St Martin’s Place, opposite The Garrick Theatre. All those ghosts now thickly clinging about neck, arms, legs and hair, streaming like veils of gossamer as you walk, playing with the imagination.

Entrance to the National Portrait Gallery. Image @Tony Grant

The entrance to The National Portrait Gallery is inauspicious. It is arched and fine but doesn’t compare with the more grandiose entrance in Trafalgar Square of The National Gallery with it’s entrance on a raised platform, Ionic pillars, fine Greek portico and temple dome. Entering, The Portrait Gallery, is almost like going into the sombre muted entrance of a cathedral. Some arches, mosaic floor, heavy wooden doors to right and left and then up some limestone steps.

Escalator up to the second floor

Once at the top of the entrance staircase you enter into a modern, light and airy hall with a ceiling four floors high and a tall escalator reaching high, up to the second floor.

Looking down.

Open plan galleries , rows of computer screens and a library for research are to your right as you go up the escalator.

On the way to the second floor. Image @TonyGrant

Cassandras portrait of Jane is on the second floor in room 18. As you get to the top of the escalator turn left and you are soon in room 18.

Second floor of the National Portrait Gallery, Room 18

The walls have the rich and famous of the early 19th century hanging on them but just to left and almost as soon as you enter the gallery, there is a glass cube positioned on a plinth and the painting in it is about chest height. It is Cassandra’s portrait of Jane, set within a heavy, elaborate, gold frame.

Jane Austen's portrait framed and in situ.

The frame seems too heavy and wide for the small picture. It dominates the picture. The portrait is positioned so the back of it is towards you. You have to walk around it to see it.

Mezzotint print of Gainsborough's portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire

We can compare a portrait executed by Thomas Gainsborough, with Cassandra’s sketch of Jane. The portrait of Georgianna The Duchess of Devonshire done by Gainsborough in 1787, is nicknamed, “the large black hat,”and has many similarities to Cassandra’s portrait of Jane. Both show the sitter with their face in profile, Jane facing left and Georgianna facing right. Both have curled and ringletted hair, both have young smooth looking faces and both have their arms folded in front of them. Gainsborough’s portrait of Georgiana is about fashion, position in society, and has a beautiful and intelligent face. The way she is standing, side on, even with the luxurious folds , creases and layers of the expensive materials of the dress and bodice you can see the sensuous curve of her back, the relaxed slender manicured fingers of her left hand are resting on her right arm. Georgianna’s eyes are looking straight at the observer, inviting you to look back and admire, a slight whimsical glance and that mouth, sensuous, waiting to be kissed. The picture speaks of wealth, confidence, beauty, calmness, style, luxury and is executed by a master painter at the top of his profession.

Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen. Image @National Portrait Gallery

Cassandras picture on the other hand shows Jane, shoulders full on towards the observer. She looks solid and lumpy. The drawing is a pencil sketch. The four fingers of the left hand resting on her right arm is a claw, four talons, more appropriate on a hawk. What disappoints me most is that Jane is looking away. If Cassandra had got her to look at her and had drawn a direct look, I would have forgiven all the amateurism and lack of skill shown in the picture. That one thing would have had Jane Austen looking at us. We could have made contact, seen into her soul. That would have lifted the picture immeasurably. Georgiana looks at us and we immediately have a relationship with her. Cassandra keeps Jane away from us. She keeps her private. Maybe that one fact tells us about Jane and Cassandra’s relationship. Or, perhaps Cassandra was trying, merely, to keep to the conventions of portraiture too closely. It showed lack of imagination. The mouth is thin, small and tight. Not one to be kissed easily. There is some colour in her cheeks. Her face is given a three-dimensional quality by the deep, long, unattractive creases leading from the wings of her nostrils to the corners of her mouth. There is a long aquiline nose, smooth and thin. Her eyebrows are pronounced, dark thin curves above her wide-open intelligent eyes. In some way the eyes do save the picture even though you do not have eye contact. They show wide-open, hazel orbs, thoughtful and carefully looking. The pronounced fringe of curls and ringlets above her brow are what strike you most about the picture. Cassandra wanted to emphasise them for some reason. Maybe she could draw hair better than other things.

One other thing. This picture was made in 1810. Jane was thirty-five years old. The picture is of a girl no older than a teenager.

When sketching, a sketcher has to look and look and keep looking. They make many marks, some right and some wrong. A process of catching the subject happens on the paper. There is no sign of a sketching process going on in this picture. Either Cassandra drew without wanting to change anything so keeping mistakes, although I think that is impossible for an artist, or she did a series sketches first and then created this one from her rough attempts. I think she did make other sketches leading up to this finished product. Presumably, like many of Jane’s letters they were destroyed by Cassandra in later life.

Queen Elizabeth I, one of Jane Austen's neighbors.

This poor, amateurish and unsatisfying drawing of Jane Austen is in pride of place in room 18 of The National Portrait Gallery. There it is, amongst some of the finest examples of 18th and early 19th century portraits. It is one of the most popular pictures in the gallery. It is Jane Austen.

Gentle reader: This post was written by Tony Grant from London Calling. Except for the Wikimedia images, he provided all the images for this post.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Reader, This post is the second part of solving the mystery of Cassandra Austen’s age in the 1841 census, which reader Craig Piercey brought to my attention. A number of people became involved in the mystery of Cassandra’s age, which was 68 at the time the census was taken, but was listed as 65. To review the situation, click on this link and read the emails sent to explain the anomaly.

The first letter came from Laurel Ann of Austenprose, who had left a comment on the first post.

Vic,  I have come across many discrepancies on census enumerations. The process is part of the problem. Families were asked to fill out their own sheets and then they gave them to the enumerator who transcribed them onto the sheets of record. The original family sheets do not survive. There is always the possibility of illegible handwriting, transcription error, the family did not understand the directions or people lied about their age! It is not considered a primary source document by the government or family historians. Cassandra’s christening record would serve as a legal record of her birth. Since her father filled this out, we can be pretty certain that it is correct. It is also confirmed in family letters. By her death in 1845 it was required to report deaths to the new Registrar and would have included a doctor’s verification. That is the best explanation I can offer. The government was primarily interested in  numbers. They used the data for general ranges like the number of children under 10 or men of military age etc. The fact that exact ages are listed from 1851 onward is a bonus to family historians now, but not so much for the government then. Census records are not an exact science. I am glad you had so much interest in this puzzle. The discrepancy does appear odd to one who has not done family research.  I hope this is helpful. LA

St. Nicholas Church at Chawton, taken by @sneakymagpie

Laurel Ann was not the first person to point out that the Census taker would use a general number that could be divided by five. Before I received her answer, I had written to Ray Moseley, Fundraising Administrator of Chawton House. He replied promptly:

Dear Vic,

Sarah Parry our education officer at Chawton House has replied as below. I do hope that this helps. If we can of any further help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Ray

Cassandra and Cassandra Austen grave

Hi Ray

I think that the following might be an explanation.

This is the web page for the 1841 census on the National Archive website: http://search.ancestry.co.uk/iexec/Default.aspx?htx=List&dbid=8978&ti=5538&r=5538&o_xid=24149&o_lid=24149&offerid=0%3a21318%3a0 It makes the point about how ages were recorded on this census and notes if over 15, the ages “were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years”.

I also had a look at Deirdre le Faye’s A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family (Cambridge University Press 2006). The entry referring to the 1841 census reads:

“June 6, Sunday
National census this year shows CEA [Cassandra Elizabeth Austen] living at Chawton Cottage, with three maids – Mary Butter, Emily Kemp, Jane Tidman – and one manservant, William Sharp. HTA [Henry Thomas Austen] and Eleanor Jackson are also there on census night.”

Cassandra was born on 9 January 1773 and would have been 68 on the night of the census so it would have been correct, by the format of the 1841 census, to show her age as 65.

Henry would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 1841. He was born on 8 June 1771. The 1841 census was taken on 6 June – just two days before his 70th birthday. So the figures are correct as Henry would have been 69 on the night of the census so again, by the format of how to record ages in the 1841, census it would therefore have been quite correct to show his age as 65. Henry’s surname isn’t shown on the census because the mark below the “Austen” of Cassandra’s name and alongside Henry’s Christian name is the equivalent of ditto marks.

Hope this helps.

Best
Sarah

Chawton Cottage

Sarah’s explanation dovetails in with other speculations, but because she works for Chawton House as an education officer, I will take hers as the last word on the subject.

Tony Grant, London Calling, wrote Louise West at the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton about the same time that I wrote Chawton House, and her reply, while supportive, did not include additional information.

Hi Vic,
I just received this today from Louise West at Chawton Cottage. Remember our exciting foray into working out Cassandra’s age? … Here you are. – Tony

Dear Tony

Many thanks for sharing with me this interesting correspondence.  I really admire all the effort that has gone into trying to solve the mystery and wish I could offer anything more illuminating but I’m afraid I’m as much in the dark as you are.  If you uncover anything definite I would be very interested to hear.

Best wishes

Louise West
Collections and Education Manager
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Chawton
Alton

So, gentle reader. This is the end of our research into this topic. I hope others have found this journey into uncovering a mystery as interesting as I have. Thank you for stopping by, and thanks to all who have answered our emails and helped, especially Laurel Ann, whose initial comments and follow-up email unlocked the mystery first.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: