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First, some news you will all welcome. Our good friend Amanda Vickery, now Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary College UNiversity of London is currently making a programme for BBC TV on Sense and Sensibility to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of its Publication this year.
It is entitled The Prime of Miss Jane Austen, in a nod to Muriel Spark’s famous novel, and we spoke about it on Twitter yesterday. The programme is again being produced by Matchlight Productions,who were, of course, the production company who commissioned our favourite At Home with the Georgians programmes, which were based on Professor Vickery’s book, Behind Closed Doors.
This is what their Press release has to say about it:
In The Prime of Miss Jane Austen Prof. Amanda Vickery returns to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility. When Jane Austen died her slight reputation appeared to die with her. Her books soon went out of print. Now, 200 years later, she sits at the summit of English literature and thanks to television and film adaptations, as well as the internet, she is an international cultural brand. What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well the hold Jane Austen’s fiction has on us now.
I will of course keep you informed of all developments. Amanda tells me the programme will be an hour long and it is due to be broadcast on BBC 2 in November or December of this year.
Next, Mansfield Park is being adapted as an opera.
The British composer Jonathan Dove and Heritage Opera will be performing it this summer, and I am lucky enough to be going to the first performance, to be held at the magnificent Boughton House in Northamptonshire, (seen below) in the presence of the owners, their Graces, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry.
How very fitting! An opera of this theatrically themed novel in a private house in Northamptonshire! I am a fan of Jonathan Dove’s works,since I saw His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, which was an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s amazing trilogy of novels. I will, of course, be reporting back to you on this….
Those of you who have not yet been lucky enough to have seen this wonderful series, written and presented by Professor Amanda Vickery,( shown above with two of her favourite characters, Lord and Lady Shelbourne) and which is SO relevant to understanding the era in which Jane Austen lived, will now have the opportunity to purchase the DVD. It has just been released by the BBC and is now available to buy in all the usual outlets, shops or online.
If you are not familiar with it then do read my detailed reviews of the series, Episode One here, Episode Two here , and Episode Three here . As you can probably tell, I loved the series, particular Episode Two, A Woman’s Touch. You can also read my interview with Amanda Vickery about the series here and my interview with Neil Crombie, one of the directors, here
If you live outside the UK and want to see the series this may be your only way of doing it, for, as far as I am aware, the series has not been brought by any overseas broadcasters. So its time to fire up those multi-region DVD players…;)
Sadly, there are no extra features on the DVD, but there is much to savour and enjoy in the programmes themselves. The three programmes in the series were fabulously produced, directed and filmed last summer on location throughout England and Wales, at some of our most interesting buildings, from the very sumptuous to the much less so. Written and presented by Amanda Vickery the series is based on her book, Behind Closed Doors, and is a wonderful companion piece to it. So, go to it , you will not regret it ;)
…on the 7th March 2011, and is now available to “pre-order” on all the well-known sites.
This was one of my favourite TV series of last year, and Amanda Vickery fully lived up to the promise of the evidence of her live lectures, revealing herself to be a vibrant, sensitive and authoritative guide to the domestic habits of the differing classes of people living in the 18th century.
The series is sumptuously filmed on location throughout England and Wales, and is invaluable as a companion to Professors Vickery’s best selling and most excellent book,Behind Closed Doors upon which the series was based.
At present there is no sign of this being bought by foreign TV stations so if you have a multi region DVD( a must!) then I recommend you order this DVD now.
My reviews of the three programmes are accessible, here, here and here. My interview with one of the directors of the series,Neil Crombie, is accessible here and my interview with Professor Vickery about the series is accessible here.
This series has been throughly thought-provoking, and the final installment was no exception.
It realigned the balance of the series towards the other side of the seductive Georgian coin, and threw more light on the lives of the poor, the dispossessed and servants in this era.
It is all too easy to imagine that most Georgians lived in fine Palladian homes or wonderfully proportioned town houses or rectories,as we have seen in previous episodes, when, in fact, the urban poor lived hugger-mugger in the garrets and cellars of these houses, some fine, some distinctly not, and the rural poor lived in hovels, almshouses or, if they were desperately unlucky, in the dreaded workhouse with its dehumanizing system of operation. This programme was a discussion of mainly two parts: what were the property-owning Georgian ideas of privacy, what rights did these privileged property owners have, and to what lengths would they legally go to defend their homes? Second, what sort of privacy was allowed to the poorer members of society? How did they protect their property, such as they had? It demonstrated how the elegant architecture of the era reflected this strongly hierarchical society and its richer member’s new desire for privacy. And how servants and the poor had few resources open to them to maintain their dignity and property rights.
The lack of an effective police force and dependency on the watchman meant that many urban(and rural) homeowners defended their homes every Englishman’s Home was his Castle- to the nth degree. They used every legally defensive measure available to them,shutters and iron bars to secure their homes…
and the now thankfully outlawed mantraps, as used in the grounds of surburan villas in Kensington…
now in the collection of the Museum of London where they will do no more vicious harm.
And despite this being the Age of the Enlightenment and the rational age of reason, many homeowners were still afraid of the supernatural and the unknown enough to use charms and votive objects for added layers of protection( we think immediately of Mrs Norris and her use of” charms” in Mansfield Park!).In this Surrey household slippers and shoes were used as a supernatural lightening conductor to ward off evil…
The programme made a wonderful visit to one of my favourite “museums” (I search in vain for the right word to describe this place..an instalment…an experience?) Denis Severs House in Spitalfields,London.
A filmmaker’s dream,every still looked like a Chardin still life….
Even the dripping washing hanging in the Hogarthian garret was picturesque….
I shall restrict myself to only to three images…..but the point was made that the hierarchical Georgian society was reflected in these elegant buildings -the most remote and poorest accommodations available to only the poor and to servants….
The trusty iPad was again in use, here showing the degradation of life in garrets,where a whole family would eat, live and sleep all using the same communal “Jordan” or chamber pot. Squalid indeed.
A visit to Erddig House in Wales famous for its benign treatment of servants, was used to demonstrate the differences between servant accommodation and accommodation for their employers.The use of corridors,bells, separate servants wings , innovations of the 18th century, all combined to make servants lives more remote from their masters and increased their employer’s privacy…
(did you spot the spectacular sugar loaf in the kitchen at Erddig?)
Servant’s lives were prescribed not only by the architecture within which they lived, but by the rules imposed by their employers….
The ideal employer respected his servants privacy to certain degrees-they were still expected to obey the rules of the household within their own shared accommodation, but affairs with servants were seen as immoral and disquieting. The story of Benjamin Smith a Lincolnshire lawyer and his affair with his maid was pitiful in every respect.
We were shown a wonderful French secretaire dating from the 1770s which encapsulated the Georgian society of the time:beautiful but hiding its many secrets in hidden drawers- ”for dirty diamonds and love letters”- all kept away from the prying eyes of servants ,whose ability to gather knowledge of their employers doings was feared, especially in Crim. Com and Divorce proceedings…shades of Mrs Rushworth senior’s maid,who had exposure in her power…..
The pocket collection of the Victoria and Albert museum was accessed, the theft of a pocket begin analogous to rape ,so intimate was this pice of clothing used to hold a woman’s most necessary and private articles…
The gilt was most definitely stripped from the gingerbread of Georgian elite women whose privacy was not respected by their husbands, the jealous husband of Ann Dormer of Rousham in Oxfordshire (famous for its magical landscape gardens designed by William Kent) made her life one of unbearable misery and torture. She was under surveillance every minute of her life…..
…her lack of privacy was a constant mental torment to her, her sad state likened to living under a not-at-all benign dictatorship.
We were taken to Professor Vickery’s home , to see in Virginia Woolf’s words, her ‘room of her own‘ -her study- which she felt was essential for her to complete her work. And she sympathised with women such as Ann Dormer who never attained the peace and contentment their own small private space would have afforded.
The late 17th century concept of the closet, a small personal, private space where ones religious devotions coud be attended to in peace was taken up by the Georgians and expanded…
…into a small room where socializing could take place,where tea, gossip, chocolate and pornography could be dispensed,and where affairs could be conducted.
The hallucinogenic bargello work on the walls of the closet of Chastleton House in Gloucestershire was used to illustrate one of these tiny, intimate spaces ,where privacy could be assured. The point was made that it was usually the male head of a household who had the prerogative to withdraw from family life, surely resonant of Mr Bennet (and possibly Darcy when Mrs Bennet came to call at Pemberley)
For the poor or for servants, their only privacy was most likely to be found not in a room of their own but in a lockable wooden box where their precious effects coud be safe from prying eyes of employer and /or fellow servants for it was unlikely that many servants had a “room of their own”.
Hogarth’s series of prints,The Harlot’s Progress, a series with which Jane Austen was familiar was used to illustrate how Moll, the fresh-faced girl up from the country with her box, marked with her initials
eventually came to grief after a career as a prostitute, having her box ransacked by her own maid, while she was dying from some sexually transmitted disease. A metaphor for how low she had sunk in life and death.
The concept of owning property was for the Georgians the key to so many things:respectability, the right to vote, to be a magistrate….but for the less well off in that society what happened when your rights of property had gone, and you no longer had the comfort and respect that derived from owning your own front door? If you were lucky you were cared for in a communal charity like the many almshouses that were set up around the country. Below we can see the almshouses that were a charitable institution established by the Ironmonger’s Company, and form what is now the Geffreye Museum.
And while the living was communal with all its attendant rules and regulations, married couples could still exist in their own Gerogian version of a bedsit, living with dignity, despite having no property to call their own.They were the lucky ones.
The destitute had to fall back on very cold charity: parish relief and the workhouse. The workhouse at Southwell in Nottinghamshire which I have always found to be an almost unbearable place of sorrow, was examined.
Here families were brutally separated and forced to live in a communal way,something that Georgian society found so very distasteful.Husbands were permanently separated from wives and children separated from their parents. The school room of the workhouse,below,with its moralising verses to be learnt by rote…
..had frosted glass in the window panes to prevent the children catching an unauthorised glimpse of their parents,should they be fellow inmates.
This would eventually have been the fate awaiting Miss and Mrs Bates in Emma. Mr Knightley was actuely aware that they were doomed to fall even futher from the genteel life they once knew in the Highbury vicarage, (a life which terminated socially and financially on the death of the Reverend Mr Bates)should their Highbury friends not support them financially. Just as Jane Austen knew of such desperate tales. Poor Miss Benn who lived in abject poverty in poor, rented accommodation Chawton was befriended by her during the years she lived in her Chawton home, a cosy, private, comfortable cottage by comparison, in the company of her mother sister and best friend. No wonder she counted herself lucky to live there on her brother Edward’s graceful charity. And no wonder when the threat of losing that home loomed in her final years, the resulting stress was most likely to have contributed to the cause of her untimely death.
But we ended on a high note……from the unhappy desperate diaries of Gertrude Saville in Episode One,
the unloved unwanted spinster sister living in sufferance in her brother home on his charity…to the end of her tale, when she suddenly and unexpectedly became mistress of all she surveyed and had not only a room but a home of her own…
This episode ,indeed the whole series, explains and amplifies concepts that were dear to Jane Austen, notably the search for one’s home, a place of one’s own. She saw the lot of women in her era with regard to this very clearly: the powerlessness or not of women in the search for a home of their own is central to many of her stories. For example, Fanny Price’s conflicting emotions between her Portsmouth her Mansfield homes; Jane Fairfax’s terror and bravery when faced with surrendering forever her status as a gentlewoman to become a governess, a servant living on sufferance in someone’s home ;and the deserving Miss Taylor who on marriage finally achieved accesss (and a key) to her own front door. Food for thought.
Professor Vickery has been a knowledgeable, amusing, sensitive and delightful companion though this journey into the Long 18th Century, discussing concepts of home,property and taste, all concepts with which we are now familiar but then were distinctly novel for the newly emerging middling classes.
I have throughly enjoyed watching each instalment of this series and am saddened that there were only three. I do hope it becomes available on DVD soon ,and I do hope that you, my readers from outside the UK will get a chance to view it in way or another ,as soon as possible.
Amanda Vickery very kindly agreed to let me interview her about her BBC TV series At Home with the Georgians,which is enjoying such great success on BBC2 presently. I thought you might like to read her fascinating replies to my mundane questions before the last episode of the series airs on BBC2 on Thursday evening…so here it is.
The series is based on your book, “Behind Closed Doors” which I loved. Obviously you could not include all your real life characters in the 3 hour series so, when you were writing the series, what were your criteria for including a person’s story from the book?
The first challenge was to boil Behind Closed Doors (at a doorstopper 140,000 words) down to three one hour programmes. We carved it up into three big themes: Making Homes, Filling Homes & Protecting Homes. My key aim was to give each programme a strong over-arching theme. I had lots of meetings with Liz Hartford the series producer and Ross Wilson the executive producer from Matchlight films chewing over what would be the clearest thought-line – legible enough for non experts to enjoy without head scratching, but not so simplified as to do violence to the subtleties of history. However much I loved my characters if they didn’t serve the argument they didn’t make the cut. I especially regretted the loss of the rebellious Duchess of Grafton who strove to retain her standing in London as a separated wife. Alas. Another issue which governed our choices was whether there was enough visual material to support a TV case study. It is highly unusual for house, manuscripts and portraits to survive for individuals below the level of the greater gentry. Neil Crombie, the director of programme one ‘A Man’s Place’, was dismayed at first by the lack of beautiful well-preserved interiors in which to film. (John Courtney’s Beverly town house is no more; Wivenhoe is now a conference centre; Gertrude Savile’s Rufford Hall is a ruin etc etc.) But Neil and the wonderful researcher Eleanor Scoones were ingenious at finding ways around the absence.
They searched out the paintings hidden away in private collections of a mature Gibbs and Ryder – which I had never seen and encountered for the first time on camera. We went back to the manuscripts, the archives and I swanned about the surviving Georgian streets of Beverley and Exeter, Spitalfields and the Inns of Court. The dramatic reconstructions gave us visual diversity and a bit of relief from me talking to camera!
What was your favourite of all the stories you featured in the series and why?
For excruciating humour it has to be Dudley Ryder. We had over an hour of film of me pouring over the diary and responding to his ambivalences. I think barely 3 minutes were left in. As a feminist as well as a historian, and as a lover of realist novels, I have always felt it was important to understand the full humanity of men as well as women. Very few of the gents I have researched were the cardboard patriarchs of older theories. In fact, as bachelors they seem so self-conscious, gauche and half-baked it’s a wonder they ever headed up households.
Ryder went on to become solicitor general, but you would never have foreseen this from reading the diary he wrote in code aged 24. But I adore John Courtney too. In my mind’s eye he was something of a Mr Collins – deaf to female signals, desperate to be debonair and facing eight rejections with undiminished astonishment: “I was thunderstruck”.
What audience were you trying to reach with this series? Were you trying to reach people who are history nuts and have read your book or a completely new audience- for example, people who are fans of adaptations of Austen/Bronte/Gaskell novels not necessarily readers of the novel or indeed of serious history books?
I was asked to do the series by Janice Hadlow head of BBC2, who is writing her own 18th century history and who liked Behind Closed Doors as well as my first book The Gentleman’s Daughter. She enjoys characters, stories, details and arguments and thought viewers might too. The head of history at the BBC Martin Davidson hoped that I could make a series which would unlock a new audience for history programmes. All the surveys reveal that the current audience for history is predominantly male and middle-aged. Why should this be when women are the key audience for costume drama? Somehow a bifurcation of history has emerged on TV: putting it crudely, bonnets for the women and bombers for the men. I would love to reach an audience that wants to see a different sort of history (neither war nor Kings and Queens). I’m interested in producing documentaries which reflect what the history profession itself actually researches and teaches now. In BBC TV land, there is a vogue for “authoritative history” – i.e. history programmes written and presented by experts, rather than fronted by celebrities drafted in to go on a historical ‘journey’ of discovery or read a script written by the producer derived from textbooks. I was delighted to catch this wave.
Producers at radio 4 and BBC4 assume that the audience is keen on history. At BBC2 you can’t take that for granted. You simply cannot make programmes aimed just at 20,000 experts who have done all the background reading. The goal is entertainment and to draw a wide and varied audience into another world with colour and character, wit and pathos – all undergirded with a single driving argument. The BBC are thrilled with the result, as their investment in trailers testifies. What the audience makes of it is another matter of course. We have our fingers crossed that history refusniks as well as history buffs will switch on to discover that there’s more to history than tanks and tiaras. I am committed to a holistic history that embraces everywoman as well as everyman. I still sympathize with Catherine Morland. “Real solemn history I cannot be interested in… the quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all.”
How pleased were you with the end result?
I am delighted with three programmes – each reflects a collaboration with a different director, each with their own style and tone – ‘A Man’s Place’ with the theatrical and brilliant Neil Crombie (who shared my sense of humour), ‘A Woman’s Touch’ with the searching documentary maker Iain Scollay (who tried to catch me at my most honest and unguarded) and ‘Safe as Houses?’ with the stylish Phil Cairney (whose direction combined the formality of Neil’s and the observation of Iain’s). I also learnt a lot from the director of photography Dirk Nel, who had worked with several different history presenters. He instilled great confidence in me – which is half the battle – while training me to hit my mark. I will never forget him chanting “FIND the light, Amanda, FIND the light” before I set off on one of my rambles down a murky corridor. Almost everything was ad libbed to camera, so I am relieved that I came out with some coherent sentences. The aim of Dirk and all the directors was to capture my personality on camera. My friends say I am recognizably myself so in one key respect they have succeeded.
How much influence did you have in the choice of actors, locations and music?
The locations were driven by my research and availability, the actors were chosen by a casting director, Eleanor Scoones the researcher, Liz Hartford, the series director and Neil Crombie (who directed the reconstructions). All of them had read my book very closely – in the end I trusted to them. In an ideal world I would have directed the dramatic reconstructions myself! But even a control-freak diva has her moments of sanity and insight. The music was largely chosen by the directors, but I made my suggestions and had right of veto. Writing is a solitary process over which you exert total control, whereas TV is a collaboration with an army. You have to respect the talents and advice of your collaborators and accept that you are producing something which reflects them as well as you. Given my intellectual life (teaching apart) is quite hermetic, I loved working with a quick-witted and highly skilled production team. I am a gregarious person and relished the camaraderie. I also loved learning a new trade from them.
You allocated a whole chapter to Jane Austen in “Behind Closed Doors”. Do you consider her to have been an accurate recorder of late 18th early /19th century life? Did you find any of her plots/characters reflected in any of your real diarists’ lives?
I tried not to treat Austen’s work simply as descriptive evidence from which I could cherry pick juicy quotes to back up my arguments. Literary scholars are always accusing historians of simplistic cut and paste. But it is clear that Austen assumed that her readers were sensitive to the implications of taste and interior decoration. She relied on them to take domestic details (like Darcy’s gift of a piano to his sister, or General Tilney’s over-bearing choices of breakfast cups) as reliable signs of character. Even silly little tables had meaning.
Austen also relied on the social, economic and emotional importance her readers would attach to the drama of setting up home. When it comes to history, I hope my readers will make the same leap, and agree that domesticity is a universal subject, not a frivolous topic to be dismissed and patronized.
As for characters on TV, I rather enjoyed inserting Jane Austen herself into the narrative. She appears first as an anonymous spinster, living in what historians call a ‘spinster cluster’ in a small grace and favour cottage hard by the main road. Austen lovers will instantly recognize Chawton, but plenty of editors at the BBC were surprised when we revealed the impoverished sister to be none other than Austen herself. I wanted to show that however mocked by satire, the spinster’s life is no less heroic and productive than that of the smug marrieds.
Do you have another TV or radio project in the pipeline? If yes, can you tell us anything about it?
I am working on another Voices of the Old Bailey series with Elizabeth Burke of Loftus to be broadcast next summer on BBC radio 4, and we have been commissioned to produce a six part history of men and masculinity from the Medieval knight to the modern salary man. I am also working with BBC2 to develop longer span series which still aim to bring the Catherine Morlands of this world to an enjoyment of history. Floreat Clio!
Floreat Clio indeed, and may I add Floreat Amanda because I really do think our understanding of the lives Jane Austen chronicled would be considerably impoverished were it not for her scholarly endeavours. I should like to thank her for her patience and kindness in supplying me with such fabulous replies to my questions,even though at one point our computers stubbornly refused to talk to each other!
The final episode of At Home With The Georgians Airs on BBC2 Thursday 16th December at 9 p.m. I will be watching as usual and posting my review on Friday. Do watch it if you can. If you would like to embark on a reading project based around the programmes, Professor Vickery has kindly produced a short reading list, go here to see it (Do note many of the books will already be familiar to readers of this site!)
I do hope a DVD will soon be available, in the meantime enjoy: the series will remain available to “view again” for another week.
A confession. I do have to say from the outset that I truly adored this week’s episode. The series really came alive for me, Professor Vickery totally at home with some of her most interesting material, which she clearly relishes and she is obviously and authoritatively in complete command of all the intricate detail.
We began at Parham House in Sussex contrasting the Elizabethan, masculine Great Hall
with the 18th century feminised Drawing Room complete with harp. Mary Crawford would no doubt have approved.
The woman whose diaries provided Professor Vickery with much of her inspiration for this programme was Sophia, Lady Shelburne of Bowood House in Wiltshire and chatelaine of the most splendid town house, Shelburne House in Berkeley Square (now the Lansdowne Club)
In Professor Vickery’s words, Sophia was “a swot”, an intelligent, educated woman who became enamoured of the new fashion for neo-classicism
In search of inspiration in order to keep up with this new fashion, her diary entries show she visited the Duke of Northumberland’s home, Syon House originally an Elizabethan building, but one that was completely overhauled by the newly fashionable architect, Robert Adam…
to become a temple to the new taste….
incorporating detials from the evacuations at Pompei and Herculaneum in an impressive and sometimes exquisitely feminine manner.
When it came to designing their own town house/palace, the Shelburne’s commissioned Adam to design their dream home,a place suitably impressive for the politically ambitious Whig, Lord Shelburne,where he could entertain and impress supporters and government members alike.
We had a small trip to the architect, Sir John Soanes House Museum, full of its wonderful neoclassical collections(though it was not flagged up as Sir John’s house and it might have helped viewers unfamiliar with it,had it been…)
The consumerism of the 18th century one of Professor Vickery’s favourite topics-was examined. Matthew Boulton (my hero!)
and his genius for producing desirable goods for both the aristocracy and the middling classes was celebrated and we visited his home at Soho House in Birmingham.
He was shown to be a smooth operator when it came to selling and recognised that tapping into the female psyche guaranteed profits and full order books.
Chippendale and his revolutionary Gentleman’s and Cabinetmakers Directory, the forerunner of catalogue selling was examined….
And his innovative designs for male and female pieces of furniture,thereby guaranteeing double sales, was admired.
The ingenious nature of Georgian metamorphic furniture, as in this cabinet bed at Temple Newsam near Leeds was discussed
And the trusty Ipad was used to great effect when looking at 18th century adverts for
furniture polish (again there is nothing new in this world)
And it was also used to illustrate the dangers that awaited someone overwhelmed by the new taste ,who didn’t know when to stop: incorporating neo-classicism,Gothic, Ionic Orders and Chinoiserie in their suburban villas was a sure way to ridicule.
One of my favourite chapters in Behind Closed Doors dealt with the Georgians use of wallpaper and how accurate a barometer it was for interior design and taste. We visited Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath (the home of Lord Mansfield)
to see the wonderful collection of delicate fragments of 18th century wallpaper
including this scrap in the newly fashionable colour, yellow
and readers of Behind Closed Doors will recognise this fragment….
We saw Diana Spurlings women “doing it for themselves” on the Ipad
and visited Coles Wallpaper Manufactory where hand blocked and flocked papers are still made in the traditional manner, (a place I used to walk past on my way to catch the train to the office when I lived in London and used to peep through their open doors in the summer to see the magical process at work)
The new consumerism changed people’s social habits taking tea, for example, where you could show off your new china and furnishings, became all the rage,a subject Professor Vickery deals with in detail in The Gentleman’s Daughter. Jane Austen knew this feeling well, especially when she was ordering her own and her brother’s Wedgwod china….
Lady Stanley, a sad case whose husband denied her decorating and visiting rights showed the other side of this Georgian coin…..poor lady,played very sensitively in this programme.
Women’s own efforts to decorate their homes was covered,and Professor Vickery visited the marvellous Quilts exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum which I also visited earlier this year and wrote about here
The amazing work of a ten year old, above, was lauded…..
We visited one of my favourite eccentric houses ,the home of the spinster Parminter cousins,A La Ronde and saw its totally feminine design and decoration, a miraculous survivor into the 21st century
And made a moving visit to the billet books of the Foundling hospital, which I’ve written at length about here,where in this case, a woman’s patchwork was her link to her child( and this story and a happy ending for once)
Finally, we revisited Lady Shelburne’s magically feminine Robert Adam designed drawing room which is now installed in the Richard Rogers post modern Lloyds Building in the City of London. A lasting monument to the taste of the Georgians.
There has been some adverse comment on Professors Vickery’s style in the press and on the internet over the past week,especially regarding her raw reaction to seeing a portrait of her hero, Dr George Gibbs . This was, in fact, a very funny part of last week’s programme, for having built him up to be her ultimate “hero” in her mind, when he was revealed to be a rather ordinary looking chap, jowly jawed and all, Professor Vickery was rather loud in her disappointment, failing to notice what the cameraman did, that Dr Gibbs’ descendant, who was showing the portrait , bore an amazing resemblance to his great grandfather how many times removed. *snort* In this week’s programme we get the impression that Professor Vickery became very attached to two of her lady diarists, and in particular to Lady Shelburne. For myself, I love to witness this aspect of Professor Vickery’s presenting technique, for I think it is this honest sympathy for her sources which enables Professor Vickery to fully understand them and to bring them to life for us. She is also not “too cool for school” an attitude I embrace myself and this is I think, a refreshing change from some of our more staid presenters.
Go here to watch episode two on series link at the BBC. Next week is the last in the series. I shall be bereft.
Last night the first of the three episodes of Amanda Vickery’s new BBC TV series, At Home with the Georgians was aired on BBC 2. I will admit that I approached it with some trepidation. I loved her book, Behind Closed Doors, upon which the series is based, and admire Professor Vickery tremendously, clearly therefore, I didn’t want it to fail. So… was I disappointed? I am glad to say, not for one moment.
Professor Vickery took us on an engaging and thought-provoking journey around Georgian England, visiting houses grand and small to discover what it meant for a Georgian man or woman to set up a home. The answer? The goal of a establishing a home meant everything to them.
We were shown archive stacks, diaries, lodgings in the Middle Temple (below), remote Westmoreland farmhouses and grand houses in Essex and Staffordshire and one in Nottinghamshire that became a prison for that unlucky person who was not to be the mistress of all she surveyed. Professor Vickery argues that the evidence to be found in the outpourings of 18th century diaries confirms that what an 18th century man wanted above all was a home and a capable wife. He certainly did not want a silly, pretty empty-headed porcelain doll sitting quietly on an elegant sofa a la Lady Bertram, despite the teachings of the conduct books aimed at females. He needed a capable, active intelligent woman who could act as his deputy in his absence and bring all her talents to the fore, running a tasteful comfortable home, ready to take every advantage of the new consumerism. No wonder Darcy showed no interest in the sickly Anne de Bourgh, whatever his aunt might have wished. The lively and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet was truly the one for him. The 18th century middling sort of man also did not really want a carousing, dissolute way of life, for only with respectability came a place in society and a chance to establish a home and attract a wife.
Charlotte Lucas’ dilemma is set out before us in a very, very clear and unvarnished manner. As an unwanted poor, spinster living on the charity of her not charitably minded-brothers she would have necessarily been unwanted and eventually unloved. The mentally tormented Gertrude Saville of Rufford Hall in Nottinghamshire, whose unhappiness clearly manifested itself not only in the words but in the crossings out of her tortured diary, was a spinster in her brother’s home, without dowry and any prospects of one day finding a home of her own. Her diaries (one page is shown below) clearly reveal her to be a poor ,downtrodden, depressed and oppressed being, seeking comfort in her needlework and her cat, and being at the mercy of her brother’s good graces and the servants spite.*shudder*
Men like George Gibbs of Exeter and Dudley Ryder, a law student of the Middle Temple in London, knew that marriage was the step necessary to provide a home and any prospect of long-lasting happiness. Poor John Courtney of Beverley in Yorkshire who tried to woo ladies ,indeed any number of ladies, in the Assembly Rooms in York, shown below, felt a complete failure when he failed to attract a wife despite having a fine home and income to call his home. No Life, Without Wife, indeed.
We dipped our toes into the consumerism of the 18th century-Professor Vickery managed to visit the Lawrence of Crewkherne’s auction of Georgian gadgets-below is a tongue scraper(YEACH)in the sale- after first reading about it here…
Jane Austen was referenced copiously within this first episode,as she is in Professor Vickery’s book. As a faithful chronicler of what 18th century people desired above all she was lauded. What they wanted was not necessarily a dashing, romantic life, with heart stoppingly beautiful heroes and heroines finding each other after dramatic( or melodramatic) trials and tribulations, but something quieter, more satisfying; their shared home. Home could be the grand palace, as in Pemberley ,but was more likely to be that which was more attainable ; happiness and contentment could be more readily found in the more in humble surroundings of the personages as at Delaford or Thornton Lacey, Fullerton or, yes, even at Hunsford. Home as the reward of virtue was what Georgian men and women really wanted.
Professor Vickery’s glee at being in certain locations was obvious. Here at the Rectory at Teigh, which was the setting of Hunsford Parsonage in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, she did what many of us have wished to so……posing in front of a certain closet….inspecting the shelves…..
Shelves in the Closet? Happy Thought Indeed
At one point when visiting Chawton Cottage Professor Vickery gave Jane Austen’s writing-table a hug. Austen was, of course, an example of a spinster who had a rich, productive, creative existence once her brother Edward stepped up to the plate and offered her Cassandra and Mrs Austen( not forgetting Martha Lloyd) a permanent home in Chawton from 1809 onwards. I can’t help but think it was a virtual hug to the ghost of Jane Austen herself. Who would, l think have, enjoyed this hour in Professor Vickery’s genial, fun but thought-provoking company.
My dear 17 year-old daughter who, inexplicably, does not have the History Appreciation Gene in her DNA, sat with me last night as a penance,bless her, but was converted and enjoyed every second, squealing with delight at spotting Charlotte Lucas’s closets, and making intelligent comments on the fates of the dissolute George Hilton , and the sadly not -at-all handsome George Gibbs.
This was not a was not a trumpeting, loud programme about great battles in history : it was a quiet, fun but serious and intelligent look at some of the most fundamental questions that bothered the Georgians and still haunt us today: will I eventually find a home and someone to love, with whom I can share it? It was in one world, marvellous. And I can’t wait till next week’s episode. I did smile at little at the product placement- the use of an IPad in many scenes. But having had one for some months now I admit is IS a very useful tool when examining painting and engravings in detail and this is how Professor Vickery used it on this programme ( Publishers of art books take note: publishing e-editions on IBooks is the way to go! )
The series is available to watch again-sadly only for those of us in the UK, I think,- on series link,which means there are 20 more days in which it enjoy this first episode. Go here to see it.
Professor Vickery , above on the right, has just sent me notice of this- her overview of her series in her own words;)
It makes very interesting reading, and frankly I cant wait for tomorrow’s first instalment. Enjoy!
Professor Vickery sent me this stunning graphic today …
As you can see it is relatively self-explanatory. The good news is that the programme will be shown on BBC2 at 9pm on the 2nd, 9th and 16th December, which is of course the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birthday. I’m so looking froward to seeing this programme. The full trailer for the programme can now be seen on BBC. On seeing it last night my teenage daughter was very much impressed, despite the History Appreciation Gene being absent from her DNA! Good job BBC and Professor Vickery,together we will make an historian out of her yet….
If you go here you can listen and watch a video recording of Amanda Vickery’s great lecture given last week at Gresham College, on the subject of “What Did Eighteenth Century Men Want“, a very interesting view on 18th century marriage commitment and bachelorhood. Jane Austen would surely have understood and approved.
I hope you really have a great time enjoying listening to her brillianlty informative and amusing style, and viewing all her wonderful illustrations.
Scenes from Professor Amanda Vickery’s forthcoming BBC TV series, At Home with The Georgians, based on her stunning book, Behind Closed Doors, is included in the latest BBC History trailer in the blog post written by the Commissioning Editor for History at the BBC, Martin Davidson . Go here to access it on-line and let me know what you think about the snippet. I’m very excited about it. Dry as dust history this will not be.
And Professor Vickery has also written a very interesting defence of the study of women’s history . Go here to read it. I feel that readers of Jane Austen, who used her domesticity to such universally applicable effect, cannot but agree with Professor Vickery’s sentiments.
A wife?-if so what sort? A meek and obedient doll a la Lady Bertrum, sitting looking pretty on her sofa , or a strong and competent woman like Sophie Croft A home- a leased estate like Netherfield, or a more permanent Pemberley or a rectory, part of a family living? Riches? A mistress? All these questions and more are going to be discussed by Amanda Vickery in the 2010 Joint Royal Historical Society/Gresham College Annual Lecture to be given at The Cruciform, University College London on Thursday 11th November at 6.30 p.m.
The blurb informs us that:
Such is the gloom that surrounds settling down today and the glamour that attaches to mature bachelor freedom, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when marriage represented the summit of a young man’s hopes.
In the 17th and 18th century, bachelorhood was a temporary and unprestigious state best solved by marriage. The Batchelor’s Directory of 1694 was unequivocal - ‘Matrimony – what can better agree with man and more exactly relate to his necessities?’ Even men who felt no attraction to the opposite sex had to marry to gain the full benefits of adulthood.
There were even proposals to levy a tax on mature bachelors as a deterrent and a punishment for their evasion of the burden of domestic government and social provision. Perpetual bachelors were the ‘vermin of the State’ pronounced the Women’s Advocate stonily. ’They enjoy the benefit of society, but Contribute not to its Charge and Spunge upon the publick, without making the least return’.
We associate the history of home and private life with women, but what did house and domesticity mean to men? More than you might think….
This lecture is free and open to all, so if you would like to attend you can: go here to get all the relevant details. There may be a podcast/video of the lecture, which may be made avaialbe for those of us who cant get there, and if there is I’ll flag up the details next week.
More news from Amanda Vickery- the BBC2 TV series based on her book, Behind Closed Doors looks at the moment as if it is going to be scheduled to be broadcast in the UK from the 2nd December at 9p.m. It is now going to be called At Home with the Georgians and if you go here you can read a little more about it on the BBC’s website. I saw a trailer for it last night and I simply can’t wait…. If you go here you can hear Professor Vickery talking about Behind Closed Doors, as part one of the Blackwell of Oxford’s Bookshop Podcasts. Very interesting stuff. I will say once again, if you have not brought this book yet, please do so (it’s now available in paperback in the UK and is a bargain) as it throws so much light on the domestic arrangements of families in our era, it is not to be missed, and should be part of every Janeites library.
So, on the presumption that you done all your duties for today and have either queued up at the Estate Office to pay your rent to your landlord, or have settled with the agent that you are to take Netherfield after all, depending on your whim…..it’s time for a little catching up re Amanda Vickery’s doings.
Throughout the summer she has been entertaining us on Twitter with snippets of information of the filming of Behind Closed Doors for the BBC, which has now been completed (above is the clapper board which was given to Amanda by the film crew as a present at the end of filming).Those of us who follow her on Twitter have virtually followed her to Ditcheley Park, designed by James Gibbs in the 1720s, shown below….
(© Adam Middleton and The Ditchely Foundation)
…where a lot of the filming has taken place, and also at
less grand surroundings such as houses in Spitalfields, above, and
the Almshouses at the Geffreye Museum;as Professor Vickery noted, it was neat but frugal.
We have also met some of the actors playing the real life characters in the book, and discovered that, for actresses playing period women’s roles, The Gentleman’s Daughter also written by Professor Vickery has become an essential part of their research,a handbook to explain the lives their characters would have led in the late 18th /early 19th century. I’m glad about this as for years I have described it as required reading for anyone who wants to know more about the background to the female characters in Jane Austen’s works. It’s nice to know that professional actresses agree!
Professor Vickery and I have been jealously coveting some of the hats on display…….
Do look at this fabulous creation worn by “Lady Margaret Stanley” seen with Professor Vickery in modern garb, above……It’s been great fun keeping up with it all. So do join Professor Vickery on Twitter for as the broadcasting date nears there will be more snippets of information being bandied about I’m sure. At the moment there is a debate at the production company as to want to call the series; Behind Close Doors sounds fine to me but an official alternative suggestion has been put forward , The Georgians An Intimate History…I confess I’m not keen on that one. Why not let Professor Vickery have your thoughts on the subject via Twitter? No dates as yet from Professor Vickery as to when the series is to be broadcast but I promise to let you know the moment I’m made aware of them.
On to publishing.
Yale, whose London office are shown above, in a photograph taken by Professor Vickery while filming Behind Closed Doors, -and I would like to thank her for permission to use all these images- have now issued a paperback edition of Behind Closed Doors in the UK (the USA paperback edition is to follow soon I understand)
This is a bargain. If you were wary of buying the full price hardback book, then please do buy this version. It is a great read as well as being very informative. My review accessible here might persuade you if you are wavering.
Professor Vickery is also to give the 2010 Royal Historical Society/Gresham College Annual Lecture on 11th November at Gresham College in London, entitled, What Did Eighteenth Century Men Want?, which promises to be fascinating. It may be made available as a podcast, and if so I will of course alert you all. In the meantime, here is another of Professor Vickery’s talks and this is one which IS available as a podcast now: go here to download her talking about the role of the home in the long 18th century. Her talk is entitled Out of the Closet: Love, Power and Houses in Eighteenth Century England. You will enjoy it I’m sure.
I’ll post again when details of the broadcasting times for Behind Closed Doors are available and I will also be reporting back soon from the exhibition curated by Professor John Styles, Professor Vickery’s husband, entitled Threads of Feeling which will open soon at the Foundling Hospital Museum in London.
There are some fascinating projects appearing on BBC TV and Radio concerning 18th century history in the next few months,and I thought I ought to give you all advance notice of the programmes, so you might not miss them.
The first to appear is Amanda Vickery’s new BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey which will begin to air next Thursday at 9 a.m on Radio 4. The blurb from the BBC tell us that:
In this new series Professor Amanda Vickery presents dramatised extracts from gripping court cases and discusses with fellow historians what they reveal about 18th century society and culture. Amanda Vickery was the presenter of the highly successful “A History of Private Life” on BBC Radio 4 last year.
The series begins with the voices of highwaymen in court,and was recorded on location at The Flask Tavern in Highgate Village,London one of Dick Turpin’s favourite inns.
During the programme, Professor Vickery will be taking to fellow historians Professor Robert Shoemaker of the University of Sheffield, Dr Helen Berry of Newcastle University and Professor John Mullan of University College London
All the histories referred to in the programme can be accessed in the Old Bailey Online website, a fantastic resource detailing hundreds of thousands of criminal cases,ranging from the most trivial to the more serious cases. Do explore it- try searching on your own surname to see if any of your ancestors were unlucky enough to pass through its courtrooms…..
If you access the programme here via its webpage, then as I understand it,wherever you are in the world, you should be able to listen to it, even though the broadcast time has passed.
Professor Vickery is currently in the process of filming Behind Closed Doors for the BBC,and the series is due to be screened in November. You can follow her daily progress because she is now on Twitter, twittering about locations and filming events. It all sounds madly interesting, if hectic. Go here to access her Twitter page and follow her.
She has been in closed carriages careering through the Peak District (in the company of a burly cameraman) and has filmed at Chawton House and Jane Austen’s House Museum. She even managed ,after reading about it here, to go to the Georgian Gadets Sale at Crewkherne and play with the silver goodies on offer at Lawrences saleroom including the silver tongue scraper. I wonder if that scene will make the final cut? Yesterday she was filming in London at Coles wallpaper company (whose ancient workshop I used to pass every day on the way to the office when I lived in London).She was trawling around the beautiful rolls of wallpaper
and getting covered in flock when she tried her hand at block printing
Later in the day she was at the Lansdown Club in Berkley Square, originally called Lansdown House and designed by Robert Adam .
It really is fascinating being able to follow her around the country as she films, so do follow her on Twitter for all the delicious details.
In early August a double CD of selections from her acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series,The History of Private Life is published,
and though it covers more than the era we are concerned with here I think you will all find it fascinating and a jolly interesting and totally enjoyable series of dramatised essays about the history of domestic life.(They kept me company in the school car park last autumn!)
Yale Publishing have also produced an informative website for Professor Vickery. If you go here you can access it,and if you go here you can view pages from Behind Closed Doors, listen to a podcast and read reviews. All good fun ;-)
Professor Amanda Vickery has just sent me details of a little glimpse of her forthcoming BBC TV series, Behind Closed Doors.
If you go here, and click on “View the History on the BBC Showreel” you can watch the current BBC History Department showreel which contains some teeny tiny glimpses of her first programme in the series ( just over 1 minute 20 seconds into the reel).
She is still filming the programmes, and as yet has no date for when the series will be broadcast, but the showreel does give you a little taste of her very appealing TV style ;-) By the look of the reel, there are some interesting programmes coming up- particularly the series by Lucy Worsley!
When I get any more information I will pass it on ;-)
**Update** The Yale London Blog has now begun to promote the series: go here to see
Yesterday, I had great fun at Kelmarsh Hall’s second annual Country House Book Day.
Kelmarsh Hall, in Northamptonshire, is a beautiful, small Georgian house,designed by Gibbs and Smith of Warwick, and has much in common stylistically and in size with its near neighbour Cottesbrooke Hall.
It is surrounded by parkland
the parish church
and a walled kitchen garden in the process of being restored.
In addition to the fine surroundings yesterdays Book Day provided entertainment about houses and gardens with lectures being given by leading garden writers and historians to small but rapt audiences.
Amid these beautiful and fitting surroundings I went to listen to Amanda Vickery give her talk Out of the Closet: Love Power and Houses in the Eighteenth Century. It was as ever a virtuoso performance from Professor Vickery, author of the very interesting and rightly lauded book, BehindClosed Doors, and The Gentleman’s Daughter. She gave a talk full of riveting information and good humour. She told us about the universal need for a home,and what this need says about us and about those who lived in the past ; how difficult it is to write about the home of the poor or even the middling sort for unlike the homes of the elite, few homes or artefacts from these classes survive into the 21st century; how responsibility for the different areas of a home were delegated between the sexes and how lack of a home was considered degrading for both spinsters and bachelors, those poor unmarried souls who had failed to achieve that most desirable consumer object-a home of one’s own. She also discussed the concept of taste as defined in the 18th century and how this was viewed by the differing classes, ranging from the elite to the shopkeepers who supplied consumer goods to all classes. In all it was a marvellous bravura performance, totally enjoyable and very informative. If only all history lecturers were like this as my teenage daughter wistfully remarked at the conclusion to Professor Vickery’s talk. Ah yes…if only….
If you go here you can downlad a podcast of a similar lecture Professor Vickery gave, the 2008 HarperCollins History lecture: I don’t think you need ITunes in order to play it, so I do hope many of you who cannot physically get to hear Professor Vickery talk will do this as it will give you a very good idea of her good humoured and intensely interesting style.
After the lecture I had the opportunity to take tea with Professor Vickery and amongst other matters of important Austen-related gossip, she told me that she had been commissioned by the BBC to make a three-part television series based on Behind Closed Doors .I won’t give away details here but you can be assured that when more information is available I will pass it on.
Quit unexpectedly, I also met Professor Vickery’s husband, John Styles,Research Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire and author of one of my favourite books, The Dress of the People.
If you go here (and scroll almost to the bottom of the page)you can listen to a short podcast by Professor Styles about the Foundling Hospital and its collection of textiles which formed a great part of the evidence he used in his book to decode the types of fabrics worn by the ordinary and the poor in the eighteenthcentury. I understand that he is going to be curating an exhibition of these textiles soon,which will be held in Bloomsbury Square, London at the Corum Foundation’s Founding Hospital Museum. I will of course let you know more details about this exhibit when they become available.
In all it was a wonderful day (and the English summer weather was kind for once!) and I am glad for this opportunity to share it with you.
…a place that has no connections with Jane Austen, save that it is not far from Cottesbrooke Hall which may or may not be the model for Mansfield Park, but which, ever year, holds a Country House Book Day, where lectures, demonstrations, wine tastings, book signings etc etc all take place in the house and gardens which are outstanding( having been restored under the tastefulk eyes of Nancy Lancaster, whose home was once Kelmarsh. She was the Virginian-born co-founder of the interior decorating firm of Colefax and Fowler.
I am finally (finally!!) going to hear Professor Amanda Vickery talk about her book, Behind Closed Doors, and I am looking forward to it very much.
I will of course be taking copious notes and photographs and will be reporting back soon :-)
I’ve just discovered a lovely podcast by Amanda Vickery on the subject of her latest celebrated book, Behind Closed Doors, and I thought I ought to share it with you.
If you go to Apple’s ITunes Store, search “Blackwell Online Podcasts”, provided you have the ITunes software on your computer, you can then download Podcast Number 54, which is a 12 minute talk by Professor Vickery on the process of researching her book, and on its contents-with a special section on the meaning of Georgian Wallpaper and an interesting comment on the colour green and Jane Austen !
And it is entirely free.
Again available on ITunes there is an Episode of the BBC History Magazine podcast series, which includes an interview with Professor Vickery on her recent BBC Radio 4 Series A History of Private Life. It was very wide ranging and engaging series,based on Behind Closed Doors but the series had a much wider scope in time.It begins 17 minutes into the podcast.
I will be attending Professor Vickery’s talk at Kelmarsh Hall,Northamptonshire, on the 20th June,and I will be reporting back to you on that.
I am breaking into AustenOnly’s Easter Holiday( on Maundy Thursday and April the 1st of all days!) to give you some news that may excite my readers who live in the North Eastern US.
As you know Amanda Vickery, author of The Gentleman’s Daughter has asked if I could keep you up to date with her latest events and the good news is that she is to give a talk on her latest book, Behind Closed Doors on Monday, April 12, 2010, at 6 p.m. at The Collectors Club, 22 East 35th Street, New York
But do note, reservations for the event must be made by the 5th April.
Here is a link to the website of the American Friends of the Georgian Group which give all the relevant details of the event and contact information.(Note, you need to scrioll down about a third of the way down the page to see the info)
Here is a link to the lovely Rae’s account of her visit to hear Professor Vickery talk on this subject given at the home of the English Georgian Group at Fitzroy Square in London, which will give a you a taste of what to expect.
I do hope some of you can get there to hear Professor Vickery. I have heard her give talks in the past and she is a very good and witty communicator.You won’t regret it , I promise!
She thought you might also like to know of her other forthcoming appearances, and so I list them here for you all to note.
She is doing a reading and holding a question and answer session at the Geffrye Museum in London on 4 March.
As I have already pointed out, and am hoping to attend, Professor Vickery is also giving a lecture at Fairfax House, York on the 18th March. Sadly, she thinks this event is now fully booked, but do note she is hoping to be able to do a repeat performance of the lecture the following morning, the 19th March, as there are already 20 people on waiting list. Do phone Fairfax House to see if they can book you a place, or put you on the waiting list if you are keen on attending it.
On the 19th May she is speaking on the subject of on private lives at the Brighton Festival , and is contributing to what looks like being a lovely interiors & garden history day at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire.
As to radio appearances, on Wednesay the 3rd March, Professor Vickery is appearing on BBC Radio 4 on Thinking Allowed, talking about 18th century servants with Laurie Taylor and Carolyn Steedman : this will be available on the Listen Again feature and as a podcast.
Finally I ought to pass on Professor Vickery’s comments about our little community here:
I cannot tell you how cheering it is to know that there’s so much genuine and knowledgable enthusiasm for the 18th century out there.
I think that sums us up nicely!