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I posted a review of this book last year ,and I sadly had left it too late for you all to act on as the hardback edition was already sold out in the UK and became sold out in the USA a few weeks later.
The good news is that it has recently been released in paperback form and is now freely available from the your local bookshop, main internet book sites and the publishers,Phillimore. I should like to thank my good friend, Rae, for this information.
As I noted in my review, linked above, this is mainly a gazetteer of 190 houses and villas built as country retreats around London from the 17th century onwards, and is written with great authority and verve by the distinguished architectural historian, Caroline Knight.
If you possibly can, do not miss this chance to buy this really fantastic book. As with any gazetteer it is meant to be dipped into, not read at one sitting, and I have spent many an enjoyable evening virtually visiting some grand houses all situated within the confines of the M25 orbital motorway.
It puts into context areas of London that are now almost totally urban in character but in Jane Austen’s era were rural places, villages separated from London by great estates like Osterley and Syon . It is a great help when reading Mansfield Park and Emma: I can thoroughly recommend it to you. Get it while stocks last this time!
or so the saying goes…..
I am about to confess some recent antiquarian book purchases to you. In my defence, I will, of course, be sharing the contents of them with you in due course, so I’ve not been that extravagant. In truth I haven’t …I managed to purchase these books at quite amazing prices considering the contents. Of course some of them are not in very good condition,but as it is the content that I seek, I simply don’t care about aesthetics.
The first is a very good world gazetteer, Geography Illustrated on a Popular Plan for the Use of Schools and Young Persons by the Reverend J. Goldsmith
This is fabulously intact, still illustrated with many maps and engravings of places mentioned in the text.
Above is its view Kamskatchkan travellers. Kamskatchka was of course a place with which Jane Austen was very and amusingly familiar, using it as she did in her Plan of A Novel, as possibly the furthest place from England that she could imagine. She wrote her furious and funny attack as a result partly of receiving “helpful” suggestions of plots for novels from the Reverend Stanier Clarke etc etc
At last, hunted out of civilized Society, denied the poor Shelter of the humblest Cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamschatka where the poor Father, quite worn down, finding his end approaching, throws himself on the Ground, and after 4 or 5 hours of tender advice and parental Admonition to his miserable Child, expires in a fine burst of Literary Enthusiasm, intermingled with Invectives against holders of Tithes.
A real find in a local second-hand bookshop was this set of five volumes of the Middlesex volumes of The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton (1800-1815).
Ex-Library copies, their bindings are not the best, but they contain the most detailed descriptions of the topography and history of the counties of England. Middlesex is a marvellous county to have , for it included London and most of its environs in Jane Austen’s era, and so there are detailed descriptions of most of the places in London that Jane Austen knew and wrote about in these volumes. I’m enjoying dipping into them at the moment….
Amazingly, because they command reasonable prices on the print market, most of the engravings are intact in these volumes. Here is one of the Herald’s College.
This is an immensely interesting book, delineating four excursions from the city of Bath, with very detailed and idiosyncratic descriptions of the interesting places to be found en route. Each of the four exclusions is illustrated by a charmingly naive map: this is the route of the first excursion:
It also has great significance for those of us interested in the contents of Jane Austen’s library, for she actually owned a copy of this book. David Gilson in his Bibliography of Jane Austen describes the copy now owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at the Jane Austen House Museum, which was annotated bythe Reverend Geroge Austen and was probably given by him to Jane.
I shall enjoy reading these books with you here and I shall be posting about them from time to time over the next few months. Do join me, won’t you?
It might at first appear strange that I am reviewing a book that was first published in 1948, but it has recently been re-printed in facsimile foom by Spire Books Ltd in association with the Bath Preservation Trust (whose property, Number 1 The Royal Crescent, is used to illustrate the cover of this book)
Walter Ison’s book is in fact an established classic and a deserves to be read and enjoyed by anyone who has visited Bath and has fallen under the spell of its Georgian Buildings; or, indeed, by anyone who has never been lucky enough to visit but has likewise fallen under its spell after reading about the city in such books as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, where the buildings and city of Bath are essential elements of the book, the city being a character in its own right.
The first copy of this book that I owned was the edition that was revised and published in 1980 (see below) where the photographs were embedded in the text. The new edition is much more clearly set out, as was the original 1948 edition, with two distinct sections -text and line drawings in part one, then photographs and reproductions of contemporary engravings in part two: I much prefer it.
The new edition has an informative foreword by Michael Forsyth who is the Director of Studies in theConservation of Historic Buildings at the University of Bath and is also the author of another book on the architecture of Bath, the Yale Pevsner Guide to Baht, an excellent work, which was first published in 2003.
Walter Ison was born in another spa town, Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in 1908.He became a draftsman in an architectural practice in London where he first read Mowbray Green’s study of Georgian Bath, “Eighteenth Century Architecture of Bath“,which fired his imagination. It is no lie to say that he became obsessed with the city and the history of its development and its buildings. Bath degenerated as a spa town from the mid to late 19th century. It was not until the 1930s that it was realised that something had to be done to stop the city decaying completely and such treasures as the Assembly Rooms were at last recognised as being buildings of merit and, as such, were deserving of restoration and protection. In 1934 the Bath Preservation Trust was established and in 1936-8 the Assembly Rooms were restored. The Second World War then intervened and Bath was badly damaged by the so-called Baedeker offensive of 1942: 400 lives were lost and 329 buildings were destroyed in those air-raids, including the newly restored Assembly Rooms. A further 732 buildings were demolished as a result of damage in later air raids,and another 20,000 buildings were recorded by the City Engineer as having been damaged in some way as a result of the attacks.
Ison moved to Bath after his war time service with the air force ended, on the encouragement of his wife, Leonora. She also donated an important personal legacy to him, so that he had the funds with which to be able to research,write and finish his proposed book. Taking his inspiration from earlier histories of the buildings of Bath, including John Wood the Elder’s own version(see above) his resulting book is a comprehensive history of the building of the city and all its major buildings, and the architects responsible. The book was rather touchingly and appropriately dedicated to his wife.
The book is divided into chapters which deal with the development of the city, the pubic buildings,domestic buildings and representative buildings of the period 1700-1725, 1726-1750, 1750-1775, 1775-1800 and finally 1800-1830. The text of the book is also studded with magnificent plans and line drawings of the important buildings. Above is his ground plan, section and elevation of the Hot Bath where Mrs Smith in Persuasion went to receive her treatment, living close by in the lowly Westgate Buildings.
The second part of the book is filled with contemporary engravings -such as this, above of the Pump Room and the new private baths from Stall Street and photographs( all in black and white) taken mostly in the late 1940s
Now, it has to be remembered that when Jane Austen knew Bath the buildings were not yet blackened with industrial grime. This photograph of Great Pultney Street from Ison’s book shows the buildings as I first remember them from my first visit to the city aged 5 in the early 1960s. The soot and grime of the Victorian era -coal fires and grime from the nearby industrial town of Bristol- had turned most of the buildings black, and it was only from the mid 195os that a programme of cleaning and the effects of the Clean Air Acts enabled them to be returned almost to the white glare of the newly recreated limestone buildings that so distressed Anne Elliot in Persuasion. But the photographs now have a period charm of their own-the cars and sometimes the 1940s fashions of the people shown in them are now as fascinating to me as the sedan chair and muslins of the inhabitants of the 18th century prints and engravings
(My photograph of Pulteney Street taken this summer)
Interior views are also inlcuded: not only of the great public buildings like the Guildhall, but of more domestic settings as such as this first floor drawing room of number 41 Gay Street: Jane Austen, remember, lived briefly at number 25 Gay Street after the death of her father, and in Persuasion it was the home of The Crofts.
The book is easy to read and comprehensively covers every aspect of the creation of the famed Georgian buildings in the city. Walter Ison died in 1997, and this new edition ensures that his book will live on as a classic, in his memory. I can highly recommend this magnificent book, and do hope that some of you are tempted by this review to rush out and buy it.
As Jane Austen knew well, a house in town (London) was the “pineapple of perfection”, “Everything that is charming!” to quote Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, a distinctive social marker of the most financially secure of her male characters and the highest social aspiration for many of her female characters( though I always feel that Austen herself preferred the safety and security of country society to that of town, that Scene of Dissipation of Vice). As Professor Edward Copeland writes in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, in the chapter on Money:
In terms of consumer show any income over £4000 a year is characterised by its ability to provide a house in London for the social season, the beguiling consumer temptation that brings romantic disaster to both Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram.
After the devastation of old London in the fire of 1666, the development of the fashionable west end of London- Mayfair and its surrounding districts-far away from the fire devastated City- saw a major period of building of grand town house, squares and crescents, with which we visitors to, or inhabitants of London are now totally familiar. This building gradually spread northwards from the streets around St James’s Palace in the first decades of the eighteenth century, and by the mid 17690s there were extensive developments built to the west and north of Cavendish Square in Marylebone, in the streets bounded by Oxford Street, the New Road (which is now known as the Euston Road)to the north and Portland Place to the east. At the same time, the Bedford Estate was being developed with the establishment of the squares and streets of Bloomsbury, and there were other isolated developments, such as the Adelphi, south of the Strand near the river Thames, that were attracting fashionable tenants.
(Adam House Adam Street Adelphi,London a survivor of the ill-fated development designed by Robert and James Adam, circa 1770,and which the eaged -eyed amongst you will recognise as the location used for Mr and Mrs john Dashwood’s town house in the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility 1995)
Much of the land was owned outright by aristocratic families –The Russell’s of the Bedford estates, the Grosvenors of Mayfair etc.,etc.,- and was therefore entailed and could not be sold, or it was in the hands of corporate landowners who developed it to provide a long-term steady income: a result of this prime ownership was that most houses were held on leases and building was large-scale and uniform, despite the occasional individual house built for a very rich patron.
Rachel Stewart’s book, The Town House in Georgian London addresses the development of this phenomenon from the view of the architect and his patrons, male and female. She explains with wonderful clarity the role of these houses, and why the location, planning, furnishing and finish of a house was of vital importance, something with contributed seriously to the image of the owners/lesees.
The finances involved in buying and affording a house in the West End is one of the most revealing and informative chapters in the book, and the financial crises of George III’s reign make for uncomfortable reading bearing in mind our current troubled times. She also includes fascinating chapters on 18th century architectural design and practices , explaining the use of pattern books and the development of the design of the town house as an architectural entity in its own right, complete with is own characteristics and formulae:
The typical town house in practice was never the country house built small, but many pattern book designs for town houses seem more or less interchangeable with those for country houses of equivalent size, both in external appearance and planning….A five bay house calculated for a large family town situation could easily be taken for a modest country house with its pedimented central section and balanced disposition of rooms either side of a corridor running backwards a form the central entrance…Where authors suggest that the same design can be used for a house in town or country, this interchangeability is often questionable.
The book is wonderfully produced by Yale Publishing and illustrated beautifully, generously and very appropriately. There are enough reproductions of plans of houses to satisfy even me.
This is a readable and enjoyable book, full of interesting detail, and for those of us who have ever wondered what Darcy’s house in town looked like, reading this book will enable our speculation to have some sound basis in fact. I highly recommend it.
Sophie Croft in Persuasion is one of my favourite of all Jane Austen’s characters. Intelligent, kind, humorous, a woman of sense, in love with her husband the Admiral, she is widely travelled and has an admirably positive attitude to life:
“And I do assure you, ma’am,” pursued Mrs. Croft, “that nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man-of-war; I speak, you know, of the higher rates. When you come to a frigate, of course, you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing to be feared. Thank God! I have always been blessed with excellent health, and no climate disagrees with me. A little disordered always the first twenty-four hours of going to sea, but never knew what sickness was afterwards. The only time that I ever really suffered in body or mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience.”
Did women like Sophie Croft really exist? Well, yes, they did….
Elizabeth “Besty“ Fremantle nee Wynne (pictured above) was a real life Mrs Croft. For some years now, I have been advocating that people read her diaries to understand what life was like for an elite woman, married to an officer, on board a ship of Nelson’s navy while on active service.
Though now out of print, above is the frontispiece of the 1935 edition of Betsey’s diaries- which combined extracts from Betsey’s diaries with those written by Betsey’s sister Eugenia, shown below- edited by Anne Fremantle, are a fascinating read and you can still find secondhand copies easily enough.
( Source: Andy Boddington at dukesofbuckingham.org.uk on 17.9.10)
The daughter of a Lincolnshire squire, Richard Wynne of Folkingham,( see below for a picture of the parish church)
Betsey began her diary writing habit at the age of 11 ,and continued until her death in 1857. A Catholic family, the Wynnes lived mostly in Europe, visiting England only briefly partially due to pressing money troubles- Betsey’s father sold his Lincolnshire estate in 1786. Betsey was born in Venice, brought up mainly on the continent, and her family moved in courtly circles. She vividly describes her life amongst the glitterati of the Naples court and her diaries are full if very detailed information. Which makes them a delight to read.
(Source: Andy Boddington at dukesofbuckingham.org.uk on 17.9.10)
She met her husband, Captain Thomas Fremantle, shown above, when she was evacuated from Naples in 1796. Her marriage ceremony was arranged with the help of Emma Hamilton and she began life as an officer’s wife on board HMS Inconstant in 1797. Here are some extracts from her diaries (complete with her idiosyncratic spelling) to give you an idea of what she experienced:
Monday January 15th 1797 ( the day after her marriage to Captain Fremantle-jfw):
We sailed last night , had fair weather and pretty good wind all day. I find it quite odd to be alone here. I dare not think on those I left at Naples for it makes my heart swell with anguish , however I can make no complaints for I am as happy in my situation as it is possible to be. Freemantle is all attention and kindness.I have got a comfortable little cabin where I can do what I like.The Vice Roy and Colonel drinkwater are pleasant society for us.
Sunday 22nd January 1797:
We had a long and tedious passage. Very blowing weather …it did not affect me, it increased my appetite and I laughed at everybody else. We only came to anchor this morning at three o’ clock. I begin to get accustomed to the life I lead and find myself comfortable and happy….I spent the evening alone and amused myself very well with my Harpsichord and books.
Friday 27th January 1797:
I was quite miserable all the morning as the three Mariners were punished and flogged along side of every ship, some men flogged likewise on board.
Tuesday March 21st 1797:
We took a prize in the night a small Spanish ship with 9000 dollars who was going to Cicely (Sicily-jfw) for corn.
Eventually, Betsey’s life on board became rather more serious: she had to nurse both her husband and Nelson who had both been wounded in the disastrous Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Nelson had his arm partially amputated, and caring for him and her husband while returning to England on HMS Seahorse- Captain Fremantle appears from her entries in the diary , in my opinion, to have been suffering from what we would now term shell shock- could not have been an easy task for the newly pregnant Betsey. Her characteristically frank entry in her diary for 24th August 1797 indicates her feelings:
A foul wind which make the Admiral fret. He is a very bad patient
They returned to England where eventually Fremantle recovered. Betsey ran their estate while he was at sea-he served at Trafalgar and produced a family of children. Keeping her diary all the time.
And now to some very interesting news. Dr Elaine Chalus of Bath Spa University has recently been awarded a grant of £100,000 to write Betsey’s biography. She has,as I understand it, been granted access to Betsey’s papers by her descendants. I simply can’t wait . The original diary is wonderful to have and to hold but was crying out for more detailed annotation and furthermore, rather frustratingly ends in 1820. Betsey’s life as wife, on board ship and on land, as a mother, capably managing the family estate, and then after the wars as a well-connected elite woman of the early 19th century is fascinating and deserves to be explained and brought to a wider audience. I’m so pleased that Dr Chalus-whose interest in Betsey was sparked when she found a second-hand paperback copy of her diaries at a village fair- has the funding needed to provide us with a full and detailed biography of one of my favourite diarists of this era.
I shall keep an eye on publication dates etc and will of course review the book here when it is available. But in the meantime, do try and get hold of a copy of the out of print diaries: fans of Persuasion and Mrs Croft will not regret it.
Have you ever wondered what the great State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey looked like, especially after reading Mrs. Austen’s atmospheric description of it contained in her letter to her daughter in law, Mary Austen, wife of James? She wrote the letter during her stay at Stoneleigh( along with Jane and Cassandra) in the summer of 1806,and the letter is dated Wednesday, August 13th 1806:
On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing room, within that a smaller; these rooms are rather gloomy brown wainscoat and dark crimson furniture; so we never use them but to walk thro’ them to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine; the old gallery opens into it; behind the hall & parlours is a passage all across the house containing 3 staircases & two small back parlours.
I adore the way Mrs Austen lets her fancy run away with her, imagining Gothic Horrors of the Catherine Morland variety for the occupant of the great bed in the
rather alarming apartment
That bed no longer exists, so we are left to our own imagining. Would it look like this terrific creation, newly restored and returned to its original home at Boughton House, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch?
Or this one, used as Mr Darcy’s bed at Pemberley in the BBC’s1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and which can still be found at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and is very stately as it was used by Queen Adelaide?
It certainly would not have resembled this one- used for Queen Victoria’s visit to Stoneleigh in 1858.
This room was not the State Bedchamber at Stoneleigh to which Mrs Austen referred: it was then the breakfast parlour and was frequently used by the party at Stoneleigh it was the only one of the rooms which afforded wonderful views down to the River Avon:
…on the right hand the dining parlour, within [that is, beyond the dining parlour-jfw] that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ’tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river.
It may however have resembled one of these:
Queen Caroline’s State Bed of 1715 or this, below, the Raynham Hall State Bed which was acquired for Hampton Court Palace in 1993
And it has to be admitted that it looks very similar, in construction, to the bed in the Blue Bedroom at Belton House, used also as Mr Darcy’s bed at Rosings in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation:
Both of these beds -Queen Caroline’s and the Raynham bed- are written about in minute detail in the book I am reviewing today, State Bed and Thorne Canopies: Care and Conservation by Val Davies (which to be honest could have been alternatively titled: Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know about State Beds But Were Afraid to Ask).
I do realise that recommending this book might be a step too far for some of you. It is a very,VERY detailed and specialised book about the care and conversation of state beds and throne canopies -which are all installed at Hampton Court Palace or Kensington Palace. More of a care manual than anything else. And of course not many of us have to care for these objects on a daily basis….But if you have ever seen one of these magnificent constructions and wondered how they are put together, how the sculpted head-boards covered with damasks, passementerie and feather are created, how the curtains and tassels are preserved and cleaned, then this book is for you.
Val Davies the author, worked in the Textile Conservation Studio at Hampton Court Palace for 20 years, and while there learnt how to care for the magnificent structures. And also how to restore them after the fire at Hampton Court in 1986 damaged some of them in a rather desperate way. The excellent text is clear, and the illustrations (particularly the line drawings in the glossary section) allow you to understand exactly how these beds were designed, made, dismantled and installed in the palaces.
A short history of the role of state beds in country homes and palaces is included but the majority of the book explains, example by example, and step by step, how the seven state beds and three throne canopies are made and how they can be preserved for the future. The photographs (which could have been a little larger-this is my only gripe about the book) are beautiful. And sometimes give you glimpse of the bed that only the occupant would have seen, as below, where we are shown a view of the inside of the tester in Queen Charlotte’s State Bed, which dates from 1772-78.
The factual basis to the fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea is finally revealed, with the revelation that many, many mattresses are used in these stately beds. This photograph from the book shows the four mattresses that make up the sleeping area of Queen Charlotte’s State Bed.
Bed bugs ( a common complaint of the late 18th /early 19th century housewife if the evidence of the remedies to deter them in my cookery books of this era is any thing by which to judge) are also dealt with. We learn that the Royal Household in 1814 employed one Mr Tiffin as
“Bug Destroyer to his Majesty and her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales.”
That does take the gilt off the gingerbread slightly doesn’t it? Ah, well…To conclude, this is a very different book from the norm, but a fascinating one and one I would recommend to any of you who have been entranced by these magnificent constructions still to be found in many an English country house today. Reading it will allow you to indulge your fancy and envisage which of these amazing beds the State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey would have resembled.
Elizabeth Jenkins, the author and biographer has died aged 104. Her full obituary in The Daily Telegraph can be accessed here.
A founder member of the Jane Austen Society she also helped secure the purchase of Chawton Cottage, now the Jane Austen House Museum , in order to preserve it for ever. For that she ,and the other founder members of the JAS and the Jane Austen Memorial Trust will always have our thanks.
However, she will always be remembered by me as the writer of the best life of Jane Austen.
Hers was the first biography of Jane Austen that I read ( note my tatty fly cover, above,a result of much reading over the years!) I had received a copy of it as a Christmas gift from my old English Mistress in 1970: it was in fact her own copy of the 1959 edition which she had received as a gift from the author herself (as you can see, she signed it on the title page, below).
I have always cherished this book, not only for its worth, but as a reminder of the woman who introduced me to Jane Austen- we read Pride and Prejudice in class- all those years ago and encouraged me to carry on in the habit of reading All Six Every Year as she did. She died five years ago and I still miss our conversations.
For most of Jane Austen’s characters a parsonage or rectory was a familiar piece of architecture. As it was, of course, for Jane Austen , born into a clerical family at the Rectory at Steventon.
And she was used visiting them all her life: rectories near to home, as at Ibthorpe to see her friends the Lloyds, and those further apart in Devon, at Colyton
(Colyton Church, Devon, circa 1820 from my collection)
A rectory was not as desirable as a Pemberley House perhaps, but when allied with a hero such as Henry Tilney, well then, a well-built ,well proportioned, modern rectory could become quite the object of much Austenian feminine interest (with the dishonorable exception of Mary Crawford)
(Yaxham Rectory,Norfolk from The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century)
Catherine Morland was innocently entranced by Henry’s substantial and newly-built stone rectory with its unfinished decoration at Woodston
Catherine’s mind was too full, as she entered the house, for her either to observe or to say a great deal; and, till called on by the general for her opinion of it, she had very little idea of the room in which she was sitting. Upon looking round it then, she perceived in a moment that it was the most comfortable room in the world; but she was too guarded to say so, and the coldness of her praise disappointed him…The room in question was of a commodious, well–proportioned size, and handsomely fitted up as a dining–parlour; and on their quitting it to walk round the grounds, she was shown, first into a smaller apartment, belonging peculiarly to the master of the house, and made unusually tidy on the occasion; and afterwards into what was to be the drawing–room, with the appearance of which, though unfurnished, Catherine was delighted enough even to satisfy the general. It was a prettily shaped room, the windows reaching to the ground, and the view from them pleasant, though only over green meadows; and she expressed her admiration at the moment with all the honest simplicity with which she felt it. “Oh! Why do not you fit up this room, Mr. Tilney? What a pity not to have it fitted up! It is the prettiest room I ever saw; it is the prettiest room in the world!”
“I trust,” said the general, with a most satisfied smile, “that it will very speedily be furnished: it waits only for a lady’s taste!”
“Well, if it was my house, I should never sit anywhere else. Oh! What a sweet little cottage there is among the trees — apple trees, too! It is the prettiest cottage!”
“You like it — you approve it as an object — it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains.”
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 26
Fanny Price is first settled at 8 miles remove form Mansfield at the rectory at Thornton Lacey a place by no means as desperate for “improvement” as Henry Crawford would have us believe ,and then finally at the Parsonage at Mansfield Park:
On that event they removed to Mansfield; and the Parsonage there, which, under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as everything else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had long been.
Mansfield Park, Chapter 48
Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney are of course, lucky second sons who were able to improve their residences, using family funds (eventually, in the case of Edmund and Fanny). Mr Collins, however, is lucky too for, due to the superintendence of his noble patroness Lady Catherine, his rectory- his humble abode- has been fitted out with every modern convenience, even down to shelves in the closets
As for the odious Mr Elton in Emma, his vicarage at Highbury, save for the yellow curtains that entranced the stupid Miss Nash so much, seems to have been a pitiful place, in need of much redesign:
…about a quarter of a mile down the lane rose the Vicarage; an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation; but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor; and, such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes.
Emma, Chapter 10
His new wife’s fortunes –as many thousands as will always be called ten- will no doubt be used to beautify and improve that place.
But what of the poorer parson ? With no wife’s pretty dowry to help improve his home and no family money and/or living as incentive to improve it either, what could he do?
Until the late 18th century there was little he could have done to improve his dwelling and many were in a parlous state.
However, a spate of legislation, beginning with the The Gilbert Acts, enacted from 1777 onwards, allowed the governors of the Church of England access to the fund known as Queen Anne Bounty in order to lend money to the clergy for the repair and/or rebuilding of existing parsonages, using their income from tithes as a security.
The rush to build new style parsonages also coincided with the social status of the clergy becoming more and more important, and the houses built in the early part of the 19th century, for those who benefited for Queen Anne’s Bounty and/or from their own family wealth, reflected this.
This situation was also echoed in Jane Austen’s family, for after her death, on his son becoming rector of Steventon, Edward Knight, Jane’s brother, commissioned the demolition of Jane’s birthplace and a replacement modern rectory, shown above, to be built on a site just across the valley (see this old AustenOnly post here for details)
This book, The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin, explores the extraordinarily rich archive of architectural pans and drawings this rush to build produced, and follows the development of the parsonage from the small Georgian villa of the period 1800-1820, to the large, grand, substantial gentleman’s residences they became during the middle of the 19th century.
The book is wonderfully produced, and is extremely well and clearly written. Profusely and well illustrated it has reproductions of ground plans to satisfy even me( for you do know I love to study a set of plans for a house).
Individual parsonages are studied in some detail, one of my favorites being Walkerinham Vicarage in Nottinghamshire, shown below.
Mr Brittain-Caltlin details the changes in architectural fashions during the first half of the 19th century as reflected by the designs for parsonages by such famous designers as Loudon, Blore and Pugin. This is a fine book, and a useful one for Janeites to refer to,the parsonage playing as it does so important a part in her life and in the lives of her characters.
Desirable residences still, this book is a fabulously detailed examination of the type of building-the parsonage- that has become an important part of English country life. And if you want to speculate on what Mr Elton did with his Augusta’s lovely money, then this book is the perfect place to start ;-)
A confession: I have had this book on my To Be Reviewed Pile for far longer than I ought to have done. For months and months in fact(as you can tell by the rather battered front cover which I scanned, above) The paperback version is soon to be released in the UK…Goodness..How tardy. I do apologise. As we have been gadding about too much recently I decided to give you a book review on serious topic today, and leave the country houses till later in the week. A change is after all, as good as a rest…
In fact, this book was transferred from my To Be Read pile some months ago, for as soon as it arrived I devoured it. I am a complete fan of Dan Cruickshank’s works. His book on the buildings of a Georgian town and how they functioned, Life in the Georgian City, co-written with Neil Burton, is one of my favourite books on this era.
His latest book, The Secret History of Georgian London is a fascinating and very detailed history of the sex industry in the long 18th century in Georgian London. It is thoroughly readable and enjoyable- if enjoyable is entirely correct word for what I think is a tragic subject. And being an architectural historian he takes a lively interest in the buildings that housed the Georgian sex industry and the areas of London where they were mostly congregated. I’m not completely sure that he really proves his premise that the city was shaped by the development of the sex industry, but some of his conclusions will startle; for example, the number of people involved in it will undoubtedly shock many of you. He give us a very detailed account of that world, one that it is all too easy to forget existed side by side with the glamour we often first associate with the Georgian era-the beautiful houses and dresses etc
But what does all this have to do with Jane Austen, I hear you ask. She was actually very aware of the dangers to poor, unprotected women of the predatory nature of the London sex industry. As is evidenced from her novels and letters. In Pride and Prejudice, the spiteful old ladies of Meryton were also well aware to the fate reserved for those who publicly strayed from the strict moral path and were most disappointed when Lydia, happily living in sin with Wickham in London, was retuned, safely married, to the Longbourn fold.
The good news quickly spread through the house, and with proportionate speed through the neighbourhood. It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world, in some distant farm house. But there was much to be talked of in marrying her; and the good-natured wishes of her well-doing which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such an husband her misery was considered certain.
The phrase “to come upon the town”, was of course referring to a woman involvement in prostitution, a fate to which many fallen women, without the support of the Bennet family and the perseverance and long purse of Darcy, were subject.
The melodramatic story of Eliza Brandon the sad, adulterous wife of Colonel Brandon’s less honourable brother in Sense and Sensibility, is one echoed in many tales of fallen women in this book.
Jane Austen was well aware of the reputation of London and its dangers: in her letter written to her sister Cassandra from London dated 23rd August 1796, she refers to London as
This Scene of Dissipation and Vice
And in her letter 18th September 1796, again written to Cassandra, this time from Rowling in Kent, Jane Austen makes this throw away remark, referring to her aborted plan to visit the Pearsons, the family of Henry Austen’s then fiancée, alone:
I had once determined to go with Frank tomorrow and take my chance etc; but they dissuaded me from so rash a step-as I really think on consideration it would have been : for if the Pearsons were not at home I should inevitably fall sacrifice to the arts of some fat Woman who would make me drunk with small beer…
She is here clearly referring to one of Hogarth’s prints of the seedier and dangerous die of London Life, as depicted in his series of prints The Harlots Progress
The first of these shown above depicts the arrival in London of an innocent country girl, here being befriended by, in Jane Austen’s own words, a fat Woman. This was none other than one of the most famous, or should I say, notorious procuresses of the Gregorian era, Elizabeth “Mother” Needham and this must be the source for Jane Austen’s interesting remark.
So, having established the London sex trade of the Georgian era as a legitimate topic of Austenian conversation, let’s now turn to the book in question.
There have been many ,many books on the Georgian sex industry published in the last few year, notably those written by Hallie Rubenhold,viz, The Covent Garden Ladies
and Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain.
a fact ruefully acknowledged by Dan Cruikshank in his preface to his book.
His book adds, however, a different perspective, for being an architectural historian he has been able to research and describe the buildings and settings used by the sex trade. His chapter on Bagnios and how they operated is an eye opener. It is also very comprehensive, discussing moral and political attitudes towards prostitution as well as documenting the trade, its vicious ways, and the people engaged in it.
Though he is clearly primarily interested in the buildings , he never loses sight of the human stories trapped by the walls of these same edifices. He has a compassionate and vivid story telling manner and recounts the tale of many crimes, such as the stories of the murder of Anne Bellwith sense and compassion. He includes interesting chapters on mens’ then attitude towards women(very enlightening, indeed) and on the Evangelical campaign against prostitution. We are also shown the results of the trade on buildings and institutions: the human stories behind the founding of such institutions as the Foundling Hospital to take in the unwanted by-product of the trade-illegitimate babies, of the Lock Hospital for the treatment of venereal disease, and of the Magdalen Hospital built to house penitent ex-prostitutes.
The grand courtesans are not forgotten: we are given interesting descriptions of the lives and loves of Mrs Abington
and Kitty Fisher,
both associated with Sir Joshua Reynolds,who painted their portraits, above.
It is a marvelously detailed book, such as I have come to expect from Dan Cruickshank, and one that I can heartily recommend, as providing a vivid background to what we can often forget was a difficult life for the poor and the unfortunates: and was also the fate of those females-some elite women, note- who transgressed the strict moral code that prevailed in Jane Austen’s era and who had no supportive family or a Colonel Brandon or a Mr Darcy to rescue them, as well Jane Austen knew.
Laurel of Austenprose has kindly asked me to contribute some posts for her Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies Group Read. Today I am writing about Country House Tourism in the early 19th century,and next week will be writing about William Gilpin’s influence on Jane Austen’s writings…So let’s apply to the housekeeper, shall we? I’m sure she has some interesting tales to tell…
Tourism in the United Kingdom, visiting grand country houses and the untamed countryside, developed apace in the 18th century. The diaries of the period reflect this trend containing as they do many, many accounts of visiting differing parts of the country, and of course, the trip that the Gardiners and Elizabeth Bennet make to Derbyshire in Pride and Prejudice is an example of the typical tour that those who could afford to would want to make. Their original destination,The Lakes of Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, were terribly popular.
The Gardiner’s second choice, Derbyshire, was almost as celebrated.
Why this growth in domestic tourism? First, because of the developments in travel: if you couldn’t “get” to a country house/pleasant vale easily you simply couldn’t visit it. Improved roads-both routes and road surfaces- and the system of posting horse and carriages for hire, made travel easier for those who could afford it. Secondly ,The Grand Tour of Europe , as undertaken by Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, was tourism on a grand lavishly expensive and foreign scale, but it became impossible to complete. The wars with Napoleon curtailed safe travel to Europe to a large extent, and so people turned to touring England and Wales for leisure and educational purposes.
The interest in viewing country houses and their grounds increased as the concept of ‘taste” was taken up in England . Originating in 17th century France, taste, -le gout- and by that I mean the idea of expressing one’s superior education and good breeding by one’s possessions, house and gardens, was taken up rather rapidly by the English, of nearly all classes.
If you were unsure as to what actually constituted good taste help was at hand. Edmund Burke, in his book, “Philosophical enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful “(1757) and Jane Austen’s favourite, William Gilpin, with his series of books on The Picturesque-the correct way to view landscape and country houses,as compositions for pictures,- led the way in explaining what was de rigueur.( More on Gilpin from me next week, by the way)
As Adrian Tinniswood comments in his wonderful book on the history of country house tourism, The Polite Tourist, when talking about visiting Lord Scarsdale’s magnificent house, Kedleston House, also in Derbyshire:
It is no coincidence that Kedleston Hall should have been the most consistently praised of all new houses in the later 18th century. It conformed absolutely to the educated classes’ conception of what modern architecture ought to be : costly, but not showy; elegant but not effete; convenient and in line with the accepted canons of classical taste, but at the same time spectacular enough to stand out from the mass of country houses. Together with its collection to became a symbol of the ideal: and by noticing and approving of the paintings, the proportions and the grandeur of the whole, tourists could share in the owner’s statement of his culture and taste. They were able to demonstrate that they belonged to that collective elite which constituted polite society at the end of the 18th century.
Provided people were correctly attired, polite and genteel and could travel, then, by the early 19th century the cultural world of the English country house was open to them. The English began to explore their own country and its contents, equipped with these sophisticated guides for the evaluation of art, architecture and the natural scenery around them. It gave people an opportunity to develop and exhibit their own sense of “taste”, something Elizabeth Bennet quite naturally does while walking around Pemberely House and its grounds.
The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
Pride and Prejudice Chapter 23
In order to be able to criticize Darcy’s taste Elizabeth needed to be able to understand what was acceptable and correct,and more importantly, what was not. Something she did with ease, though she found criticising oil paintings in the Pemberley gallery rather more difficult. An example of Mrs Bennet, yet again, failing her daughter in her education: even if masters were to be had, they had patently failed to provide Elizabeth with an education in the appreciation of art.
I’ve dealt with some aspects of opening these country houses to the pubic in the 18th and early 19th centuries -the problem for visitors and owner alike and the role of the housekeeper in an old post here on Austen Only, which I do invite you to read, for in this post I want to concentrate on a different aspect of country house visiting: the practicalities of such tourism, and to answer such questions as how did the visitors find out about these houses and estates? And what was on show once they were there?
To the first question. Obviously the houses in one’s locality would be known to the prospective country house visitors, but when travelling how did the traveller know where these places were to be found, especially if you were not in the company of a knowledgeable former resident like Mrs Gardiner?
The answer again is to be found in books. Detailed publications like John Britton and Edward Baylake Bayley’s The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of each County ,
Or, John Cary’s Traveller’s Itinerary,
proliferated in the early 19th century to guide the determined traveler, and are one of my favourite types of antiquarian books collect. The one probably of more use to us today was written by a woman, Georgiana Kearsley whose Traveller’s Entertaining Guide Through Great Britain is a favourite of mine.
Cary’s book is a masterpiece detailing all the roads and cross roads in England and Wales ( with some of the main routes in Scotland)
and he does give some descriptions of houses –the seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen – to be seen along the route you are taking while riding in your comfortable carriage or hired post-chaise. Both books, note, contain a chapter amounting to 60 pages each, giving details , set out alphabetically, of most of the known country houses in the kingdom
(Do note that you can enlarge all the photographs of the pages of the books in order to be able to read the detail:
I do recommend it as I find them fascinating.)
But Georgiana Kearsley’s book is far more detailed. For example, on this page we have her version of part of the route from London to Manchester, passing through the towns of Matlock, Darley, Rowsley and Bakewell in Derbyshire.
The entry for Bakewell, is very useful for the traveler, and tells him all he really needs to know:
Bakewell is the best town on the north side of the Peak, on the Wye. It is supposed to have been a Roman town, because of altars dug up near it at Haddon-house. Three miles on the r. is Chatsworth a magnificent seat of the duke of Devonshire. It is reckoned among the wonders of the Peak. It is a most magnificent house, built of stone dug on the spot and is a most beautiful structure. This was one of the prisons of Mary queen of Scots. On the road, three miles on the r. is Hassop, F. Eyre esq.
Inns: George, New George.
Let’s deconstruct this entry.
She tells us a little of the ancient history of the place, important for the early 19th century traveller as interest in antiquities was then a very gentlemanly pursuit. Then she informs us of the direction to Chatsworth, with details of what might attract us there and a little of its history.
And finally Georgiana points out another house where we might want to apply to the housekeeper to see its gardens and contents. Then once we have decided to linger in Bakewell to see these attractions we are told of the two inns where we can stay overnight, or refresh ourselves and our horses on the way. All very useful information, I’m sure you will agree.
Once the travellers arrived at a country house, what would they see? Well, of course, the route and content of such a tour depended on the owners of the house or the housekeeper’s patience or desire for a gratuity. We know that Elizabeth Bennet’s tour of Pemberley House included viewing the hall, dining parlour,other rooms,including Georgina Darcy’s sitting room, the picture gallery and some bedrooms.
Was this typical?
Lets compare it to a tour of Osterley House just outside London, the home of the wealthy banking family, the Childs, which was made by Sophie von La Roche, the German authoress in 1786. The house was originally a Tudor building which was aggrandized in the 18th century by Robert Adam. Her account is full of delicious detail and prefect for our purposes today and here are some extracts from it, illustrated with pictures of the rooms she is describing:
Today we made a pleasant trip to Osterley Park, Madame Child’s country seat, widow of the late banker of this name, whose property amounted to 500,00 guilder. We would never have imaged such a place had we not seen it It lies eight miles from London, in the county of Middlesex almost opposite the Duke of Northumberland’s fine property Sion House, and indeed they are the joint owners of equal shares of the Sion Monastery estate….
As friendly Mr Burth, whom I met at Count Reventlow’s had sent us a ticket admitting five people, we were led into the breakfast room until the caretaker arrived. Where we looked at some nice pictures, had a view on to the park and the very portion of the wood where the fallow deer were and had the pond on one side and some field and Richmond hills in the distance on the other.
Fr0m here the friendly woman conducted us into the magnificent library….the dining room is very large with delicious decorations and looks out onto flower beds…
From here we came through a fine tapestried apartment into a gallery 130 feet long with large windows onto the garden…
This gallery led into the drawing room, where are some superb hangings and chairs of Gobelin Tapestry
We entered a green bedroom next,
Then one where all the draperies and curtains are richly yet prettily embroidered. Another lovely room follows and yet another called the Etrurian cabinet since its wall paintings are copied from one similar found in Pompeii…
Upstairs we saw Mrs Child’s apartments; she is away in Switzerland at the moment. These are dainty boudoirs contining all the most delicate porcelain, gold and silver ornaments and miniatures. More especially a collection of enamels being the portraits of the Child family and a number of them by the famous Petitot.
I was pleased to find my “Sternheim” in English translation amongst Mrs Child’s book and on the fly leaf I wrote down something of the joy and pleasure I had experienced at Osterly Park- in English too as well as I was able…
We went down to the very lowest floor where are all the sevants quarters-kitchen,
bake-house, laundry housekeeper’s lodge- all as spruce and clean as I myself could have desired my whole life long
The dairy and milk room however surpassed all my expectations. There was an entrance in which milk and milking pails and butter tubs stood in splendid array al white with brass rings gleaming like gold; then down a step into the dairy where the milk was standing in large flat china pans, especially made with broad spouts for pouring off the milk, around the four walls on grey marble tables….we were brought each a glass of cream with bread and butter in it…
And the housekeeper led us on though the poultry run and across a fine spot reserved for the washing, bleaching and drying back to her own part where we had to partake of some cherry brandy and very good cakes so that the milk should not chill in our stomachs..
We visited the garden especially the Chinese summer-house where all the furnishings come from China…
Into a vegetable garden there again were whole hosts of a thousand different flowers besides the vegetables; hot houses containing hundreds of pineapples of unusual size; one for growing rapes…Beehives made with particular care so that their work should always be visible.
Sophie’s tour was long and more detailed than Elizabeth’s. Viewing the domestic offices is an unusual thing to do for the time, as was being offered refreshment. But I can’t imagine Mrs Reynolds allowing visitors -even celebrated authors- to deface her mistresses’ book….In the last few years many people has asked me if bedrooms would really have been on show at Pemberley, as they felt that this would have been too intrusive. I think you can see that it was clearly not an outrageous thing to have done when compared to the extensive tour of Osterley house,which included both state and private bedrooms,and so the answer is, “yes’.
So there you have it-the practicalities of touring a grand country house in the early 19th century. Sophie von La Roche’s tour compared rather well with Jane Austen’s imaginary tour of Pemberely as experienced by Elizabeth Bennet, but of course it had one vital difference: she didn’t manage to marry the intriguing owner of the estate…. I do hope you have enjoyed this post and it will add a little something when you tour Pemberley in the company of the Gardiners and Elizabeth Bennet in Chapter 42.
If you are intrigued by this subject and want to know more I can do no better than recommend my Twitter Buddy and fabulous historian, Adrian Tinniswood’s great and entertaining book( to which I referred above ), The Polite Tourist.
Sadly, it is currently out of print and quite hard to find secondhand, but Adrian tells me he has six copies of the book and he is willing to sell his remaining copies to the first comers.You can contact him here: he is a wonderful author and a smashing chap so do try and get his book (s) if you can. You wont regret it :-)
I love visiting old assembly rooms. The large and glamorous sets, like the ones at Bath
or Lord Burlington’s magnificent set at York ( now part of the chain of Ask restaurants-they are very kind and will let you in for a peep without you having to buy a meal)
and smaller ones such as my local set, Stamford
Teeny- tiny compared to the first two. But still built on the same plan,as you can see:-a long room for dancing plus a tea room where refreshments were served and a card room for those not wanting to dance:
It is the oldest surviving set in England.
But we can never visit the Assembly Rooms at Lyme Regis which Jane Austen visited in 1804, for they were demolished in 1928.
Jane Austen famously danced there on her visit in 1804:
The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up, but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later. Nobody asked me the two first dances; the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford, and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son, whom my dear friend Miss A. offered to introduce to me, or with a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again. I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the honbl. B.’s, who are son, and son’s wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)
I’ve been scouting round my books and have found the following images and descriptions for you, so that we can try to piece together exactly what they were like:
Here is a description of the rooms from my copy of John Fletham’s early tourist guidebook, A Guide to all the Watering and Seabathing Places dating from 1803, which is slightly apologetic in tone:
Lyme has a small Assembly-Room, Card-Room and Billiard-Table all conveniently ranged under one roof ; and had the Library been joined to it, all the amusements which the place can furnish would have been comprised in one building. The situation for this edifice is happily chosen, as it commands a charming marine view as far as the Isle of Portland, eight leagues off, and the interior is compact and well arranged. Magnificence is not essential to enjoyment: often more happiness is found in a cottage than in a palace; and the rooms at Lyme frequently exhibit as cheerful countenance as are to be seen at Bath or Brighton.
Here is a 1825 map of Lyme which shows you the position of the Assembly Rooms at the bottom of the town ( note, Jane Austen was staying at Mr Pyne’s house which is also shown on the map)
And here is a close up of the part of that map that allows you to see the position of the Assembly Rooms in more detail:
We have one description of the interior of the rooms, by Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen :her Homes and her Friends first published in 1902. She managed to visit the Assembly Rooms at Lyme before they were demolished, and recorded her impressions as thus:
The Assembly Rooms used formerly to be thrown open to company during the season twice a week, namely on Tuesdays and Thursdays…The ball-room is little changed since Miss Austen danced in it that September evening nearly a hundred years ago. It has lost its three glass chandeliers which used to hang from the arched ceiling, but these may still be seen in a private house in the neighbourhood. The orchestra consisted, we are told, of three violins and a violoncello. We visited the room by day-light, and felt almost as if it were afloat, for nothing but blue sea and sky was to be seen from its many windows. From the wide recessed window at the end, however, we got a glimpse of the sands and of the harbour and Cobb beyond.
Just outside this recessed window there is a steep flight of stone steps which leads from the Parade down to the beach. In former times this flight was much longer than it is now, part of it having been removed to make room for a cart track. On these steps the author of “Persuasion” effected the first meeting of Anne Elliot and her cousin, when his gaze of admiration attracted the attention of Captain Wentworth. Anne and her friends were all returning to their inn for breakfast, as the reader will remember, after taking a stroll on the beach.
The Assembly rooms were extended in 1866 . These are some old photographs of the exterior of the Rooms taken in the late 19th century:
Here the rooms are shown on the left of the photograph: you can clearly see the bay window as described by Constance Hill, and which looked out onto the sea. The rooms eventually ceased to function as assembly rooms and by 1900 they became a tea room:
Here is a picture taken of the rooms as they were being demolished
And in this picture you can clearly see the gap where the assembly rooms once were:
The above photographs were taken from a smashing book, Lyme Regis Past and Present by Jo Draper: it is filled to the brim with very atmospheric photographs from the extensive collection held by the Lyme Regis Museum. It is available to purchase from Lyme Regis Books, a marvellous resource for books on the town and its literary history:
I find it so sad that we can no longer visit these rooms,where Jane Austen was accosted by her “Irish” gentleman….I do love to visit these smaller provincial sets of rooms as I feel they give a very different impression of the assemblies of the 18th century, than the glamorous and large sets in the large cities. For the majority of people who attended assemblies they were visiting much smaller places and I think we ought to remember that not every set as was glamorous or as large as the exiting set in Bath or York.
I do hope you have enjoyed this little reconstruction of the Lyme Assembly Rooms.
I recently attended this fascinating exhibition which is being staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I say staged for it is a magnificent theatrical evocation of all Walpole’s interests, which were many and varied, collecting together, sometimes for the first time in over 100 years, objects associated with Walpole and his Gothic confection of a house at Twickenham, Strawberry Hill, here depicted by Paul Sandby. (and please note you can enlarge all the illustrations here merely by clicking on them)
Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the youngest son of George II’s powerful prime minister, Robert Walpole. He was an MP for over 20 years but it was not his political causes which remain of interest to us, but his artistic endeavours.
For anyone who studies the 18th century, encountering Horace Walpole is inevitable. He was a prolific author of many fascinating letters(collected in 48 volumes!) full of waspish comment; he moved among the highest social circles and his impressions of his world and the many, many people he encountered are engagingly reflected in his papers. He was an avid art collector and an antiquarian, an amateur architect and landscape gardener , and importantly for admirers of Northanger Abbey, was the father of the Gothic Novel, being the author of the first of the genre, The Castle of Otranto.
The exhibit, which is contained just in a series of ten sections all dealing with different aspects of Walpole’s life and interests is fascinating. I am even considering revisiting it as I don’t think I really managed to see and appreciate everything despite spending a long time there( luckily my companion is as interested in the 18th century as I!)
His house at Strawberry Hill- which is undergoing a thorough and needed restoration and will re-open in the autumn -and its contents is at the heart of the exhibit.
of The Vyne in Hampshire, were very influential in reviving interest in the aesthetic aspects of the Gothic era. Indeed a common name for this revived architectural style is Strawberry Hill Gothic. The Chute family - though the next generation on from Horace’s friend, John, were friendly with the Austen family ( especially Jane Austen’s eldest brother James who was vicar of Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne is situated )
Horace consulted them closely on all aspects of the exterior and interior decoration of his house. Here, as an example of the interior, is the wonderful gallery complete with papier mache fan vaulting
If you go here you can view a short video of the exhibit and Strawberry Hill’s restoration, which I hope you will enjoy.
It is difficult to isolate pieces in the exhibit for mention here they were so many and so magnificent: a locket containing Mary Tudor’s hair, a Cardinal’s hat believed to have been owned by Wolsey…..many wonderful things: so I’ve decided to show you a few items that I found particularly interesting.
Horace Walpole was fascinated with the romantic aspects of the past: his collection of 17th century miniatures included these of the Digby family, Sir Kenelm Digby and his wife, Venitia. They were Catholic supporters of Charles I and Sir Kenelm is now remembered as the author of one of my favourite antiquarian cookery books The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby kt Opened(1669)
Another article I found fascinating was this cabinet, decorated with panels drawn by Lady Diana Beauclark,whose scandalous divorce from Visccount Bolingbroke after her adulterous affair with Sir Topham Beauclerk made her a sensation and outcast from her class.
The relationship between Horace and disgraced women like Diana Beauclerk is an intriguing part of his personality . He never married and speculation on his sexuality rages today.
His home in the fashionable village of Twickenham was derided by the purist Gothick admirers of the 19th century, most importantly and prominently, Augustus Pugin. But recently it has regained its rightful place as part of the history of design. If you cannot visit the exhibition which ends in July, then I strongly recommend the sumptuously illustrated catalogue of the exhibition edited by Michael Snodin the director of the Strawberry Hill Trust, published by Yale.
I recently went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see one of their current exhibitions, Quilts 1700-2010.
It was a fascinating exhibit not concentrating so much upon the mechanics of quilt making, but on the history and inspiration behind the older quilts, together with some inspiring modern quilts, some especially commissioned for the exhibit. As someone whose hand quilting days are over (and does not really approve in a very unreasonable and irrational way of quilting by sewing machine) I found some of the old quilts quite moving and admirable. However, I also loved the floral Liberty print quilt, consisting of pastel floral union jacks,called Liberty Jack by Janey Forgan and which was made in 2008
If you cannot visit the museum for the exhibition, which runs until the 4th July of this year, then I do recommend the accompanying book/catalogue by the curator of the exhibition, Sue Prichard.
The quilts I found most interesting were those from our period (now, there is a surprise, I hear you say ) and I’d like to share some of the details of them with you now, if you’ll allow.
Women and politics is a theme very much in vogue in academia at the moment and this exhibition was no exception.The quilts I was most intrigued by were not only from our era but they also expressed, with however small a “p”, political thoughts by the women who made them.
The first was made in 1799 and shows George III inspecting his volunteer troops in Hyde Park.
The centrepiece was clearly inspired by a print of the event made by John Singleton Copley.
As the catalogue states:
This seemingly inconsequential and unheroic event was in reality a vital display of domestic military strength during a period of perpetual threat of invasion. In 1799 Britain had been at war with France for six years. ..The scene at Hyde Park represented represented not just the physical protection of the king and his subjects against French aggression on home soil but the preservation of the British settlement and the body politic.
Around the edge of the quilt, as you can see ( and do remember you can enlarge this and all the other illustrations in this post merely by clicking on them) are scenes representing military and naval events: the whole quilt is a piece of home propaganda if you like, supporting the armed forces and volunteers protecting the nation in time of war.
I’m sure Anne Elliot would have approved…
Another of the quits which was intriguing was a bedcover dating from around 1820
and which has as its centre piece a printed cotton portrait of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of George IV.
Jane Austen was of course a supporter of Queen Caroline in all the Royals well-publicised disputes and wrote about her as follows in her letter to Martha Lloyd dated 16th February, 1813:
“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
No doubt she would have approved of this bedcover too…..
These type of block printed commemorative panels were very popular in the early 19th century. Here is one commemorating Princess Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of 1816:
And here is a purely floral one dating from 1816:
This is similar to the centre piece of Jane Austen’s own quilt, which is still on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton:
This is the quilt that she made as a project with her mother, Mrs Austen, and with her sister, Cassandra. Here she is writing to Cassandra about it in her letter dated 31st May 1811:
Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork? We are now at a stand-still.
No imagery of political leanings here, sadly: but that may have been due to it being a shared project. After viewing these politically inspired quilts, I would loved to have seen what Jane Austen might have embroidered, left to her own devices……
The Hot Cross Buns have been buttered and eaten, the Easter Eggs hunted for and found and the Easter tree with its array of Austrian eggs has been put away for another year…..I’m back from my Easter Break and hope you all had a wonderful Spring celebration too.
I went to a couple of exhibitions, the details of which I am going to share with you in a few days but first, a treat: an interview with Susannah Carson.
The organizers of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books recently contacted me to arrange an interview with Susannah Carson, the editor of the recently published anthology of Austen inspired critiques entitled, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen.
Susannah is due to appear at the Festival on Sunday the 25th April at 10.30 a.m. in the Young Hall CS 50, speaking in the Writing on Writers Panel, and if any of you are in the area I hope you can go and listen to her.
The book is a fascinating read: one I found best read not in one long swoop, but better experienced little by little , essay by essay, allowing room for thoughtful contemplation of the differing views. Some of the articles I agreed with, some I did not. As someone who is probably more in tune with the past than the present I found the exclusion of writers beyond the last 100 years slightly sad. But overall it is a good, thought provoking collection body of criticism. It is a perfect bedside or bathside anthology for anyone interesting in the reasons why, after nearly 200 years, we still continue to read and enjoy Jane Austen’s works.
And I was truly delighted to be given the opportunity to discuss with Susannah –via the wonderful medium of email thereby avoiding any delays due to unexpected volcanic eruptions-the whys and wherefores of her book.
Here is our exchange of views. I do hope you enjoy it.
1.What were your criteria for including a writer’s views on Jane Austen in the compilation?
There were two main criteria.
First, the essay had to address the “Why?” question. Why do we read Jane Austen? Why does she continue to influence how we think and feel, write and read, two hundred years later? This seems to me to be one of the great and wonderful literary mysteries. And by answering the “Why?” question, we get insights into the other how, when, why, where, and even when questions as well.
Second, the essay had to be written in an engaging voice—the kind of voice that allows us to imagine the writer on the other side of the page. I wasn’t looking for omniscient voices that echo through damp, archival corridors or sound like a canned telephone tree. The authors of these essays sound like they’re sitting on the other side of a café table, reminiscing, reflecting, sometimes even leaning forward and slapping their hands down on the table when they’re trying to make a favorite point.
2. Were there any writers (living or dead) whom you considered including, but then rejected? If so, who were they, and why?
There are some wonderful passages and essays on Austen composed by 19th-century authors: George Saintsbury, Margaret Oliphant, Sir Walter Scott.
We decided to only include essays from the last hundred years: anything older might have brought something like attic mustiness to the collection.
3. Excepting your own essay, with which writer’s view did you most agree?
I find myself referring most often to four passages.
The first is by Susanna Clarke, (the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel-jfw) who reminds us that marriage is a career choice for Austen’s heroines.
“Today the idea of marriage is a loaded one; at best it’s a closing down of options. Austen’s women saw things differently. For them life opened up at the point of marriage. The married state, not the single state, meant liberation….Of course this bid for freedom only worked if you married the right person” (3-4).
I like the passage because it emphasizes a certain perspective on Austen that I’ve always loved: that the novels aren’t “about” marriage; that they’re about heroines coming into their own, what Eva Brann calls “the settling of a woman for life” (201).
The second passage works in counterpoint to the first. Margot Livesey explains that the love stories work because
“the reader must come to feel that this romance is not merely a matter of personal preference between two people, but that a whole world order is in question until these two find each other.”
I like the idea that love really does matter.
The third passage is by Eva Brann, who reminds us that happy literature isn’t merely light literature, that tragic literature isn’t necessarily more serious.
She writes, “Jane Austen…knows what the angels know—that happiness is more worthy of note than unhappiness” (202).
And the fourth passage is about how reading influences how we see the world. Alain de Botton writes,
“One effect of reading a book which traces the faint yet vital tremors of our psyche and social interactions is that, once we’ve put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely those things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. […] Our attention will be drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend, or to a submerged sadness about a situation we had previously not even known we could feel sad about. The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity” (143).
The passage goes straight to the heart of how books work, of why they matter.
I also love Jay McInerney’s phrase, “beautiful minds,” Lionel Trilling’s “secular scriptures,” Harold Bloom’s “achieved ellipsis,” James Collins’s “wobbly figurine,” Rebecca Mead’s “Fantasy Dinner Party,” Amy Bloom’s “terrible Jane,” the lovely and sadly late Louis Auchincloss’s “good life”—and so on throughout the collection.
4. Did you disagree with any of the sentiments expressed by the contributing authors?
There is one truly dissenting voice, and if I were to disagree with any of the authors in the collection then it would be Kingsley Amis.
In “What Became of Jane Austen?” Amis calls Fanny Price, heroine of Mansfield Park, “a monster of complacency and pride” (127). The essay is important, however, for it helps us understand why subsequent essays on Mansfield Park so often defend it against the claims of priggish monstrosity.
5. Why do you continue to read Jane Austen? Why do you consider her works continue to speak to you (and us!) after a period of nearly 200 years?
Harold Bloom writes in How to Read and Why that “imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness.” Austen’s works continue to resonate, I think, because they let us know that we’re not alone in the world. I find that the experience of reading Austen is at once personal—just me and a good book—but also communal in all sorts of ways. There’s the relationship with the characters, the relationship with the imagined author, and buzzing behind the book there are all the relationships with all the other readers out there. I won’t get to meet most of them, but one of the rewards of putting together this book is that I get to know lots and lots of other Janeites. Reading Jane Austen has shown me that reading isn’t an activity distinct from real life, but that it’s an experience capable of infusing all of life.
I should like to thank Susannh for her very thoughtful replies to my questions, and wish her every success at the Festival.
If you are not able to visit the Festival in person but would like to follow events as they happen you can do so by following the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books here on Twitter. If any of my Readers do go, please do let us have your views on the Panel. We’d love to hear them.
Mary Anning was a famous fossil hunter who lived in Lyme Regis, England – a part of the country that is today known as the Jurassic Coast. Her story has recently been fictionalized by Tracy Chevalier in a novel, Remarkable Creatures, which I recently enjoyed reading:
And there is a slight Jane Austen link, so let’s continue her story.
Mary was the daughter of Richard Anning, a cabinet-maker of Lyme Regis. He had a supplementary string to his financial bow- he was a finder of curiosities-fossil as we would now call them- which could be found on the coasts -the cliffs and the beaches- around Lyme and Charmouth.
This is a view of the beach and cliifs of Charmouth,
and this is the view of Lyme from Charmouth beach: if you click on it to enlarge it, you can see the town, rushing down to the sea, with the arm of the Cobb jutting out into Lyme Bay.
With the death of her father in 1810, Mary and her brother Richard were the sole survivors of ten siblings and her parents . Mary took over her father’s secondary trade of fossil hunting, desperate to support her now diminished family in the only way she knew.
She had a stall on the beach where she sold her finds to the middling- sort tourists who visited Lyme in the season. In fact it is thought by some that the tongue-twister, She sells sea shells on the sea shore was inspired by Mary Anning and her finds.
Which were amazing.
In 1811, aged just 12, Anning discovered the fossilized skeleton of an Ichthyosaur Although Ichthyosaurs had been known from fragments since at least 1699, this was the first complete skeleton found . Mary first found the skull, and only later found the rest of the animal after a storm washed away the part of a cliff which contained it. Her later finds included a Plesiosaur in 1821, and the first complete specimen of a Pterosaur in 1828.
Her finds were immortalized by Henry de la Beche, in his watercolour: Duria Antiquior, A More Ancient Dorset, lithographs of which were sold for Mary’s financial benefit.
Mary’s patron and supporter during her life time was Elizabeth Philpot, a genteelly impoverished daughter of a London lawyer who moved to Lyme with her other sisters in 1805, thereby missing Jane Austen by one year. Its tantalizing to think that they might have been attending the same assembly rooms in Lyme had Jane Austens family visited Lyme one more time….
Though both Mary and Elizabeth’s knowledge and talents were widely admired in the scientific community and their finds were pivotal in allowing theories of evolution to develop, neither were ever eligible to join any scientific societies, such the Geology Society. Which is thought provoking in itself…
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen ? (which is of course the only reason for writing about anything here) Simply that Mary Anning’s father in his role of cabinet maker came into contact with Jane Austen when the Austen family stayed at Mr Pyne’s house
in the lower part of Broad Street in Lyme in 1804.
I have written to Mr Pyne on the subject of the broken Lid: it was valued by Anning here we were told at five shillings and as that appeared to us beyond he value of all the furniture in the room together We have referred ourselves to the Owner.
Oh,dear….Mr Anning does not appear to have been very good at his job: over estimating the cost of a broken lid and not impressing the shrewd Jane Austen at all.
The museum at Lyme is the Philpot Museum, named in Elizabeth Philpot’s honour by her nephew Thomas Philpot and it has interesting collections celebrating Mary Anningand Elizabeth Philpot. And if you care to look at their events page you will see that there are some interesting talks and walks to be had about them in the forthcoming weeks.
But I find it intriguing to think that Jane Austen probably met Mary’s poor incompetent cabinet-makerfather at Lyme, and I do wonder if one her undoubted walks along this coast if she found any fossils and what she thought of them…
Ammonites from my son’s collection , collected on Charmouth Beach in 2006.
Today’s post has nothing to do with Sandition, although Laurel’s really fascinating Group Read of Jane Austen’s fragment continues at Austenprose.
But it does concern a seaside resort of which Jane Austen was fond, Lyme Regis, and the Lyme Regis Philpot Musem’s attempt to publish a manuscript “epic” poem about the town written in 1819. Mary Godwin ,the museum’s curator, has very kindly supplied me with some images and quotes from the poem so that I can share news of their project with you here.
The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum has had in its collection since 1978, a manuscript which was given to the museum by the artist, Laurence Whistler.
Called The Lymiad, or Letters from Lyme to a friend in Bath by a Unknown Gentlewoman, the manuscript consists of a series of eight letters all written in verse, about the town of Lyme and it inhabitants as they were in 1819.
Each letter describes in turn, the streets and lodgings, the sea and beach, the civil war siege and Monmouth, the assembly room,; the mayor and worthies of the town, theatrically entitled, the dramatis personae
the surrounding scenery and bad weather; and, finally, departure from the resort. All of which would have been familiar to Jane Austen who visited the town in September 1804.
The writer John Fowles who in 1978 had just started his ten-year stewardship of the Museum as its Honorary Curator, was very intrigued by the new addition to the collection. After reading it he was so impressed with The Lymiad that he regarded it as among the Museum’s most precious possessions.
He liked it for its wit and satirical humour and its vivid evocation of the manners and pastimes of a small Regency seaside resort:
Say, is there not the mostly group among,
One generous bard, one gentle “child of song”
To celebrate thy wonders, matchless Lyme!,
In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme? …
Each letter in turn looks at at the streets and lodgings; the sea and beach; the civil war siege and Monmouth; the assembly rooms; the mayor and worthies; scenery and bad weather; and finally departure from the resort by the narrator.
The Lymiad contains many vivid portraits of local residents: for example in this extract The Lymeiad’s author probably refers to the geologist, Henry de la Beche’s sailing boat:
That “Blood-red flag” which gaily floats
On the full-swelling breeze, denotes
The Conrad Sir Fopling Fossil’s pride;…
He is the most accomplished youth,
That is, if Madame Fame speaks truth;
And more than this I cannot tell,
But some who know Sir Fopling well,
Inform me he’s a F.G.S.
During the 1980s John Fowles made a transcript of the poem, prepared a general introduction and made some explanatory notes on local references within it.
In 1997 the manuscript, which was on display in the Museum, came to the attention of Dr. John Constable, then Professor of English Literature in Kyoto University. During consultations with John Fowles over the next few years, Professor Constable studied the transcript and wrote a substantial introduction to it. He considers that The Lymiad is
“a highly political and a thoroughly Whig poem, with some leanings towards the left of that party, though stopping short of Radicalism itself.”
In this extract the author is poking fun at the fact that Lyme was a “rotten borough” in the control of the Fane family, the most senior member of that family being the Earl of Westmoreland:
Know then my friend, since last I wrote,
Here hath been pass’d a day of note,
When ‘tis the fashion to declare,
Who next shall be our worthy Mayor.
This day is honoured every year
By presence of a noble peer,…
The town of voters hath but few;
So few, that at th’Election last…
Th’Electors, and elected too,
In one horse chaise appear’d to view:
Sadly, John Fowles died in 2005 before any publication of the poem could be undertaken. But now the Lyme Museum has decided to ask for subscribers so that a first and fully annotated edition can be published.
The Museum has already secured some grants towards the cost of producing the book from charitable foundations and other donors, but in order to complete the task of publishing this manuscript they now need to attract 100 subscribers, who will pledge £20 per volume, and whose names will be recorded in the publication itself.
Once sufficient numbers of subscribers have been received the publication project will be able to be got underway.
If you go here you will find a form that can be copied, filled in and sent to the present curator of the Lyme museum, Mary Godwin (and she will even accept subscriptions made by copying and pasting the form in an email: I know because that how I subscribed) .
If you would like any more details of the publication her email address is
replacing “at” and “dot” with the necessary to fool spammers ;-)
The Lyme Regis Museum’s publication of The Lymiad will rather fittingly and touchingly be dedicated to John Fowles’s memory.
Do note that the new edition will not be a facsimile of the original manuscript. Instead, it is being cleverly designed to appear as it might have done in had it been published in 1819 .It will have stitched pages and marbled card covers .
I understand that the edition will contain an essay by John Fowles on Lyme in the early 1800s which he revised in 2003, a general introduction and textual notes by John Constable, a transcription of the text complete with editorial notes by John Fowles, John Constable and Jo Draper and that it will be illustrated with pictures from the Museum’s wonderful collection, which have also been selected by Jo Draper.
I have already subscribed because I am absolutely fascinated by the thought of reading an insider’s view of the place Jane Austen visited and liked so much that she ensured that pivotal scenes from Persuasion occurred there . And also because I adore this museum, and try visit it every time I visit Lyme.
I do hope that some of you may be sufficiently interested to subscribe to this fascinating pubication project too.
(Woodcut by Joan Hassell from The Folio Society’s Edition of Pride and Prejudice)
In Chapter 8 of Pride and Prejudice, we are given a small diatribe on the subject of what qualifies a woman to be deemed accomplished. Charles Bingley, declares that he thinks all young women are accomplished:
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
The more exacting Darcy pours scorn on his list of accomplishments:
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
Miss Bingley, hoping her fashionably expensive, seminary acquired education will allow her to belittle the home schooled-if we can all it that- Elizabeth Bennet ,weighs in:
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
And it is left to Darcy –who surely as such an acute observer, knows the only woman in the room with a book in her hand is Elizabeth Bennet – to pay her this ever so slight compliment, by emphasizing the intellectual requirements of true accomplishment:
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
This pity of it is all is that Elizabeth is already too prejudiced against Darcy to accept or even notice it; and, inevitably, she goes on the attack:
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
(Don’t worry-it all works out well in the end)
For many years the debate has continued to rage: was the “work” created by many genteel women of this era of any intellectual value? Or did Darcy’s view prevail, so that the ability to net a purse and cover a screen was not thought of being of any merit, and to call a women accomplished in these circumstances was rather over egging the pudding? In this revealing article by Amanda Vickery she contends that to see woman’s ”work” as a lesser achievement with no artistic or intellectual input and of lesser worth than the intellectual purists of men is to misunderstand it and them. I quite agree.
And the woman who was the subject of that article is someone who even the disdainful un-reconstructed Fitzwilliam Darcy would ,I submit have been forced to have called accomplished . Mrs Delany united a genteel women’s “work” with artistic and intellectual ability and scientific endeavor
The book Mrs. Delany and her Circle has been published by Yale to coincide with an exhibition that concentrates on her artistic and scientific endeavours, and which has been on view at The Centre for British Art in the US, and is now on view at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. I am hoping to get there to see later in the year, but in the meantime I wanted to review this and one more book on the subject of Mrs Delany.
First, a little background information. Mrs. Delaney lived almost the length of the 18th century; born in 1700 she died in 1788 Well connected she was no doubt a conventional accomplished woman, but had a keen intellect which raised her “work” to new levels of artistic ability and scientific truth.
Her first marriage to Alexander Pendarves was unhappy but ended in 1725 with the unexpected death of her restrictive and jealous husband. Her widowhood in London was a happier time in her life and many of her most important friendships were cemented in this period, especially that with Margaret, Duchess of Portland. The great collection of letters to these friends, and to her mother and sister to which I will refer below, began during her widowhood.
Her second marriage was much happier in all ways than her first and gave her much intellectual freedom and stimulation. The entry on Mrs Delany in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records it thus:
In 1731 Pendarves joined her friend Anne Donnellan, the daughter of Nehemiah Donnellan, chief baron of the Irish exchequer, in Ireland for a visit of eighteen months. They were widely entertained in Dublin and the country and introduced to most of Anglo-Irish society. Pendarves met Jonathan Swift, with whom she afterwards corresponded. More important was her meeting with Patrick Delany an Anglican cleric. The two were clearly attracted to each other, but he was already engaged to a rich widow, whom he married in 1732. In 1743, after his wife’s death, Delany went to England to propose to Pendarves. Her male relations opposed the match, for Delany had neither fortune nor gentle birth. But she ignored these protests, and the marriage took place in London in early June 1743.
(Silhouette by Mrs Delany)
After her husband’s death in 1768, she lived mostly with her great friend the Duchess of Portland:
Mary Delany returned to London, and lived first at Thatched House Court and then at St James’s Place. She spent most summers at Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire, the favourite country house of the duchess of Portland. There the friends improved the gardens, collected shells and botanical specimens, indulged in various arts and crafts, and entertained poets, scientists, theologians, friends, and royalty. It was there in 1774 that Delany began what she called her paper mosaics, the cut-paper illustrations of flowers and plants that were her most important artistic achievement. Using various shadings of coloured tissue, she cut freehand all the parts of the plant, which were then pasted on black paper to make a perfect specimen. Nearly a thousand pages of her Hortus siccus were completed by 1784, when she had to give up the work because of failing eyesight; these are now in the department of prints and drawings at the British Museum.
The book, Mrs Delany and her Circle, concentrates on her stunning accomplishments and is peppered throughout with stunning examples of her work
Her needlework is of the highest technical ability :
(Please do click on these illustrations to enlarge them-the detail is amazing)
But for me the most important thing to note however is the fact that she is not fanciful in her designs. The flowers-roses, hollyhocks, auriculas, sweet peas etc., etc., are all botanically correct.
This close up of a thistle being strangled prettily by a convolvulus is a tour de force
She continued with her artistic endeavors throughout her life, but in 1772 -when suffering from failing eyesight-she invented a new form of recording botanical samples with her paper mosaics. The craze for natural science was fuelled by the introductions of previously unseen/unknown plants from newly conquered lands. Her interest in botany reflected this development in science. That she used her artistic talents to capture these specimens for posterity is not I think to be derided.
The book is superbly illustrated with many, many examples of her mosaics and embroideries ( plus her drawings )
Here are a few of them for you to enjoy:
On visits to Bulstrode-the home of the Duchess of Portland- King George III and Queen Charlotte were introduced to Mrs Delany and were very impressed with her- her abilities, accomplishments and character – so that they made her many presents including this exquisitely embroidered pocket book and its contents:
On their suggestion Sir Joseph Banks of Kew sent specimens of rare plants to Mrs Delany to enable her to capture the intricate details of these plants in the most accurate form.
After the Duchess of Portland died in 1785, King George II gave Mrs Delany a house at Windsor and a pension of £300. She enjoyed her last years as a royal favourite, and died at Windsor Castle, probably of pneumonia, on 15 April 1788. She was buried at St James’s, Piccadilly.
This book is, to be frank a bargain : it is fabulously illustrated and the essays within on Mrs Delany’s life and art are well written readable and comprehensive. They even include a details analysis of the process of making the mosaics and there is a section with set by step photographs should you want to try to recreate them…
The next book on Mrs Delay I wanted to review is by my good friend Katherine Cahill, Mrs Delany’s Menus, Medicines and Manners
This is a very good companion volume to the exhibition volume, concentrating on Mrs Delany’s life and interests as expressed in her letters.Her copious correspondence to her family and friends was first edited and published in six volumes in 1861-2 by Lady Llanover, and these are now difficult to find (and if you manage that feat, they are expensive to buy)
Katherine Cahill’s book expertly summarises all aspects of the correspondence and Mrs Delany’s life as recorded in the letters : her homes, interior decoration, her advice regarding food, servants, medicine and her clothes. All these important aspects of her life are expertly explained for a 21st century reader and are clearly addressed in this slim and very affordable volume: it is a treasure. Sadly its few illustrations are in black and white only: but if you posses both these books you will have the best of both worlds and a tremendous insight into the life of a very interesting woman of the 18th century
So there you are, two books on the life and achievements of a very accomplished woman. I highly recommend both to you.
Rae, a friend of AustenOnly,and someone who will be already known to some of you, was lucky enough to go to Amanda Vickery’s Lecture at the Georgian Group’s headquarters this week. She kindly consented to write a report of it for me, and so I have great pleasure in posting it here for you all to read.
Amanda Vickery ,23 February 2010
Amanda Vickery gave an animated and fascinating lecture based on her recent book ‘Behind Closed Doors‘ to a packed room at the Georgian group. She began by describing the ways in which the rituals of ‘visiting’ both transformed and reflected polite society in Georgian England.
The role of tea and its associated paraphernalia was illustrated by slides of the range of teapots in circulation and a discussion of the commodification of that paraphernalia – the search by silversmiths in the early part of the century for ways to cash in on the drink’s popularity led to the disaster of silver handled pots and silver cups – and the development of what we now instantly recognize as the shape of a teapot.
Another lovely slide showed an accounting book for visiting, with all the socially important addresses in London and columns for the recording ‘in’ and ‘out’ of cards. I particularly enjoyed her description, in the Q&A session, of the ‘set dressing’ that went on for many households. Houses or apartments taken for the season might be freshly papered for tenants, and furniture could be rented by the season.
Beyond this, she provided an analysis of the gendered nature of domestic life, often made visible to us now through instances of the norms and expectations of marital relations being denied or failed; the sad letters of wives whose husbands did not allow them the expected authority to order either the home or the activities within it. More happily many other couples shared the rights and responsibilities of setting up home (a man’s seriousness and willingness in discussing such things before marriage was an omen for the future) and she reminded us that there was no suggestion of effeminacy in a man’s taking an interest in choosing and decorating the home.
The Dinner-Locust or the Advantages of a Keen Scent from “Behind Closed Doors”
Her work is particularly interesting for the way she explores masculinity, and an important insight she gives us is into the significance of marriage and the home to men. We are familiar with their importance in the lives of women, particularly those Austen women we all love and care about, but she reminds us that a bachelor’s lot was seen as a rather limited one, and that marriage, with its accompanying establishment of a home, was as much the gateway to adulthood for men as it was for women.
‘Behind Closed Doors’ is a joy of a book, full of detailed and evidenced insights (how could we not love a book which uses Jane Austen as a primary source?) and Amanda Vickery’s lecture was an excellent elaboration and discussion of its themes.
Thank you so much ,Rae for your considered and detailed report of what must have been a fabulous lecture. Behind Closed Doors has very quickly become one of my favourite books on this era(I only wish it were available on Kindle then I’d have it with me always!)and I think you will join me in recommending it highly.
Thank you so much once again for allowing us all to share your wonderful experience.
but not the Deirdre Le Faye edition…..the Brabourne edition;-)
This may initially appear to you as a strange thing to include in a book review, a set of books that have been out of print for over 100 years…but wait …you well probably be as surprised and pleased as I was to discover that Cambridge University Press have recently taken on the concept of print-on-demand books and have made it into something that has the potential to be very special indeed.
They are re-issuing scholarly out of print books from the unimaginably wide range of books in their libraries.
The edition of Jane Austen’s letters edited by Jane Austen’s nephew, Lord Brabourne, is among the first digitally reprinted books to be issued in the new series –The Cambridge Library Collection
It comes in the form of two very reasonably priced volumes, both in paperback editions.
They are facsimiles of the original books, first published in 1884 by Richard Bentley and Son.
The originals have become so expensive that I have long since put my reasonably-priced-when-bought-all those- years-ago volumes on The Not To Be Touched Shelf.
So now I am pleased to own these two volumes in this accessible form so that I can examine them once again without fear of breaking the spine, spilling tea over them or otherwise damaging them in my usual klutzy way.
This Brabourne collection is, of course, available on-line, and has been superseded by the Le Faye Edition, but it still has some merits, the introductions by Lord Barbourne and interesting family documents etc, and there is a charm in examining the first proper selection of Jane Austen’s letters in its original form. Especially when the original volumes are now so scarce and…so ruinously and hideously expensive. And despite, or rather because of being a fond Kindle owner, I find I do like to hold a book in my hands, rather than read one on line, especially if I’m doing it for prolonged periods of time. So this re-issue is wonderful.
My only gripe is that the two illustrations in the books are quite fuzzy and indistinct.
The portrait supposedly of Jane Austen as a child, commonly known as The Rice Portrait ,
is rendered (as in the original books) in black and white but as you can see, below, this version is very blurred :
The view of Godmersham from The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (1798) by Edward Hasted in Volume II of the letters is also not particularly clear…
…especially if you compare it with the original print , of which I have a copy
However this is nitpicking on my part, a minor quibble. It is the text that is important and these books deliver it in a perfectly legible way.
The Cambridge University Press have only just begun to reissue many titles on many subjects in this series. Follow this link here to read a general introduction, and this link here gives the current list, subject by subject
Below is a very lovely and informative video of the whole process-accompanied by heavenly music by William Byrd sung by the choir of Girton College. Just click on it to play….
I love the idea that they are open to suggestions for further reprints and I am compiling a list with a few suggestions. Their own collection of books must be mind bogglingly immense, but if you suggest a title of merit that they do not own or is not out of copyright but out of print ,they will attempt to pursue the matter and try to produce their own edition of the books.
As someone whose ancestor was John Baskerville, who was commissioned to print books for Cambridge University in the 18th century, I have always had an affection for the CUP. I can only laud this whole process, and urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to own your own copies of hard to find and sometimes impossibly expensive texts.
Sophie Croft is possibly my favourite of all Jane Austen’s female characters. Intelligent, kind, shewd, witty and self sufficient(as long as she is near the Admiral).
Mrs. Croft, though neither tall nor fat, had a squareness, uprightness, and vigour of form, which gave importance to her person. She had bright dark eyes, good teeth, and altogether an agreeable face; though her reddened and weather-beaten complexion, the consequence of her having been almost as much at sea as her husband, made her seem to have lived some years longer in the world than her real eight-and-thirty. Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do; without any approach to coarseness, however, or any want of good humour.
She is very much part of the Admiral’s world and their relationship is one of the most balanced and loving in all Jane Austens works:
The Crofts knew quite as many people in Bath as they wished for, and considered their intercourse with the Elliots as a mere matter of form, and not in the least likely to afford them any pleasure. They brought with them their country habit of being almost always together. He was ordered to walk to keep off the gout, and Mrs. Croft seemed to go shares with him in everything, and to walk for her life to do him good. Anne saw them wherever she went. Lady Russell took her out in her carriage almost every morning, and she never failed to think of them, and never failed to see them. Knowing their feelings as she did, it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her. She always watched them as long as she could, delighted to fancy she understood what they might be talking of, as they walked along in happy independence, or equally delighted to see the Admiral’s hearty shake of the hand when he encountered an old friend, and observe their eagerness of conversation when occasionally forming into a little knot of the navy, Mrs. Croft looking as intelligent and keen as any of the officers around her.
Persuasion Chapter 18
And of course, Mrs Croft is the most travelled of any of Jane Austen’s female characters:
“What a great traveller you must have been, ma’am!” said Mrs. Musgrove to Mrs. Croft.
“Pretty well, ma’am, in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”
Persuasion Chapter 8
And it is her travels that interest me, for this recently published book, Birds of Passage edited by Nancy K Shields, details just the type of journeying Mrs Corft would have undertaken when she traveled to the East Indies, via the cape of Good Hope. I have been waiting since Christmas for the oportunity to tell you of this book. I thought today was perfect timing with the airing of Persuasion on PSB tonight.
Birds of Passage records the journey to India made by Lady Henrietta Clive- seen on the cover of the book, above as portrayed by Sir Joshua Reynolds- and her two daughters, Harry (Hernitetta) and Charly (Charlotte). She was married to Lord Edward Clive, son of Clive of India. Lord Edward was Governor of Madras. Accompanying them on their journey was the children’s governess, Anna Tonelli, and her paintings of the places they encountered on the whole expedition illustrate this book.
This is one of the Government House and Council Chamber in Madras.
The book consists of extracts from Lady Henrietta’s diaries and letters written to her brother, Geroge Herbert, second Earl of Powis, a rather Byronic figure. Extracts from Charly’s journals are also presented. They detail the journeys to and from the East Indies, stopping at the Cape of Good Hope en-route, and at St Helena on the return journey to England.
When in India Lady Henrietta and her children made a journey of over 1000 miles from Madras via Bangalore, Mysore, Coimatoor,Tranquebar and Ponidcherry, returning to Madras seven months later. Her aim was to see the recently conquered Seringapatam and the remains of Tipu Sultan’s capital – the fall of which was part of the foruth Anglo-Mysore cmpaagin. In 1799 the English Army had attacked Seringapatam. Lady Henrietta’s original plans to vist Seringupatam were postponed by Lord Mornington- Wellington’s brother, and the Governor General of India-a difficult character by Lady Hernietta’s account.
The journals are chock full of interest for those of us who like the teeny-tiny details of life in the early 19th century, and are of extra special interest to those of us who adore Mrs Croft, for naturally Lady Henrietta chronicles many of the sights, sounds and experiences that Mrs Corft must have shared.
The book recounts, in some great detail, life on board ship-sadly unlike Mrs Croft Lady Henrietta never felt entirely well while at sea. We accompany her while she learns Persian(the language of the India Courts) and she frequently expresses her exasperation with the limited role that women could play in this and indeed the wider world, dominated by men.
We learn from the journals what was considered to be essential travelling equipment in India for an aristocratic party: harp and pianoforte of course; fourteen elephants; a hundred bullocks to carry provisions and, not forgetting a train of camels which were essential for the delivery of express messages.
The trials if family and domestic life is also related. Unlike Sophie Croft, Lady Henrietta’s marriage was not entirely happy. Lord Edward Clive was not at all lively and was a poor intellectual match for his spirited wife. As Wellington noted-he was also part of their world in India, leading the British Army’s campaign against Tipu Sultan- Lord Edward was :
A mild moderate and remarkably reserved man having a bad delivery and apparently heavy understanding…
We learn of Lady Hernitta’s maid becoming pregnant as a result of a dalliance with an officer and discretion is the key: mother and prospective child are treated with utmost kindness, a way life for them both being provided by Henrietta, and discretion at home in England being insisted upon by Henrietta to save the poor girl’s reputation. She thinks very ill of the officer involved indeed.
She was, of course, viewing India from the standpoint of 18th century British colonialists: this is not a treatise on the Indian way of life, but notes of the lives of British in India. She was interested in the people, the flora and fauna, their religion and language but clearly on her terms. In no way did she “go native” as you can see from this small extract:
March 16th 1800
We breakfasted in the commanding officer’s fort -house..I went at seven o’clock to the fort and an old pagoda, magnificent and well carved, constructed of granite now converted into a military storehouse. The sculpture is much better than any I have yet seen, some of the open work is extremely neat and well executed…I breakfasted at the commanding officer’s house and afterwards the Princes came to see me…The Padshaw begin a legitimate son is extremely interesting. I understand that Col Wellesley was much pleased with his manners in Seringapatam….
That being said, I adored this book, and was grateful for the glossary explaining the Indian words Lady Henrietta used often. If anything is lacking I would say it is some more explanatory footnotes…but then I’ve been thoroughly spoiled by the extreme notation of the excellent Deirdre le Faye;-)
This book is a bargain. Buy it and revel in the fascinating details with which Lady Henrietta regales us: of the plants she collects and sees, the travails of travel by sea-leaks, mutinies, prize taking-all are recounted here; the strangeness of travel within India itself; the social life of the British at the Cape and in India all of which would have been familiar to my favourite Austen lady, Sophie Croft.