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but the reason why is quite clear…..
I have broken my ankle and have, for the past few weeks, been in a lot of discomfort and have been unable to access my study. Sadly, it is not healing as quickly as I or my consultant would like, but at least the pain is receding. It still needs to be elevated (imagine to yourselves my surprise when I realised that that meant that my foot had to be level with or higher than my nose!) so accessing my study is still not on the agenda.
My wheel chair and zimmer frame skills are still rather rudimentary, but they are improving slowly, and I’m looking forward to the day when my consultant finally (finally!!!) announces I can bear weight on my leg again, and I get back to posting properly here ( and at the Jane Austen House Museum blog!). In the meantime, we have the BBC2 Netherfield Ball programme , “Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball “to look forward to. It will be broadcast on the 10th May and I will be writing about it. There is an informative article about it in today’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, and when this is available on line I will alert you.
So..while my postings won’t yet be as regular as before my accident, I thought I ought to let you know that I am back, if in a slightly reduced capacity!
As part of their celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice BBC2 is commissioning a special programme during which a team of experts will recreate a regency ball- indeed, not any old ball but specifically the Netherfield Ball- as authentically as they can.
The programme ( working title, Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball) will be presented by Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke and they will be supported by a team of experts including our old friend, food historian Ivan Day; Professor Jeanice Brooks and Dr Wiebke Thormahlen, who will advise on the music and orchestral elements; and curator and expert on history of dress, Hilary Davidson. Stuart Marsden and Dr Anne Daye will choreograph the dancing and literary expert John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London, will be on hand to ensure the ball’s accuracy and authenticity to Austen’s work.
The programme is due to be of 90 minutes duration and will be filmed at Chawton House, Jane Austen’s brother’s home in Chawton village. More details can be found on the BBC’s website here, and I believe the programme will be broadcast at Easter. I will of course, keep you acquainted with any more information if and when it becomes available.
Professor Amanda Vickery’s BBC 2 TV programme which was first screened at Christmas in the UK, has now been released on DVD and is available from all the usual outlets.
This was an enjoyable documentary, which I reviewed on its airing, here. Some commentators have since criticised its approach to the JASNA AGM at Fort Worth, especially as the programme did not show much of the serious presentations held at the meeting. However, if you want to see an interesting history of Jane’s Fame, then this is an interesting and enjoyable hour, in the company of a very engaging presenter. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure most of you will do so too, especially as I understand it has not yet been screened other than in the UK.
Amanda Vickery’s latest documentary, on Jane Austen’s fame and how her reputation has spread since her death in 1817, was aired on BBC2 on Christmas Eve, and I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on it. In the hour-long programme, she told the story of how Jane Austen and her works have come to enjoy such astronomical fame today, to the point where she is now ubiquitous. And it is an interesting journey, when you seriously consider it. Just how did the daughter of an obscure cleric, whose works were favoured by a small, elite group in her life time,
and then was almost forgotten…whose birthplace is now destroyed,
whose only authenticated image is tantalisingly vague,
and whose gravestone omitted to mention the fact that she a was a professional, published author of novels,
manage to become so famous, to the point where the world-wide Jane Austen industry (heritage or otherwise ) is today worth millions, and where one of her incomplete manuscripts, The Watsons, can command a price of almost £1 million at auction?
This story has been told before: Claire Harman’s book, Jane’s Fame:How Jane Austen Conquered the World( 2009), covered this topic quite succinctly - but this programme was not really meant for Jane aficionados who most probably will have already read the book. It was really aimed, in my opinion, to inform the non-obsessed amongst us (And yes, they do exist!) Those who, perhaps, take for granted that Jane Austen and her vibrant characters have always been so dominantly amongst us, this past 200 years, and may be surprised to learn that this has not really been the case.
This story was told as an interesting illustrated international journey- beautifully shot and Amanda Vickery is always a congenial, intelligent companion. En route we met with academics such as Professor Kathryn Sutherland, who explained away some of the Jane myths, especially those that surround the “official ” images of her;
Lucasta Millar, shown below in the gloomy graveyard at Haworth with Professor Vickery, explained the Romantic’s attitude to Jane and why they so violently rejected her.
One of the most outspoken critics of her, was, of course, Charlotte Bronte, hence the filming at Haworth in Yorkshire.
We learnt how the publishing world and in particular, W. H. Smith’s mid championing of the mid to late 19th century cheap yellow back railway editions of Jane’s novels began to spread the word ( when they were conveniently out of copyright)by offering them via their outlets on stations to the many thousands of bored railway travellers, desperate for some cheap entertainment on interminable journeys…
and how her reputation grew amongst a group of aesthetic men, to the point where many men serving in the trenches of World War One found solace in her world, retreating in their heads to her place of safety, thus avoiding the real horrors that daily beset them.
The academic world and its near obsession with her ( Have you ever tried to keep count of the sheer number of academic papers of varying merits that are published about Austen every year? Don’t attempt it, I beg of you…) was addressed and particular emphasis was paid to the important influence of F. R. Leavis and his wife Queenie
with their pugnacious championing of the English Novel (and in particular the moral and literary worth of Jane Austen) in their teaching at Cambridge, and also in his book The Great Tradition (1948) where he boldly asserted that
‘The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad’.
The importance of the wider media was also acknowledged, and indeed, this is probably the most important factor which has been the enabler of Jane’s extreme fame today. Given the amazing commercial success of film and TV adaptations of her novels, it may stun you to realise that, while Charles Dickens’ works were filmed countless times from the beginning of the cinema industry in the late 19th century, Jane Austen was ignored by Hollywood until the 1940 adaptation of Helene Jerome’s successful Broadway production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Laurence Oliver and Greer Garson.
BBC TV led the way to a certain extent with adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958, and 1967, though this version ( of which I have vague memories) was aired in the Sunday tea-time slot, and was aimed primarily at an audience of children.
The 1980 version by Faye Weldon was broadcast on BBC2, and this, it was argued, was the beginning of Austen’s now massive popularity where TV audiences are concerned. Amanda confessed to finding David Rintoul’s Darcy particularly attractive…
And, of course, it was in 1995 with Andrew Davis’s version of the novel for BBC 1( aired this time at primetime Sunday evening viewing at 9 p.m.) that a world-wide, very enthusiastic audience was generated.
The documentary included an amusing interview with the incorrigible Andrew Davis, still championing his admittedly successful formula of “sexing-up ” of Austen’s novels, gaily claming she missed a trick in her portrayal of the, to him, rather sexless heroes of Sense and Sensibility( complaints on a postcard to Mr Davis and not to me , if you please)
What I liked most about the programme was its attitude toward the Janeites of today. The annual Bath Regency Promenade, part of the Bath Jane Austen Festival, shown here descending Gay Street , was filmed and most affectionately was it done, too.
The participants interviewed were not depicted (as I had feared) as crazed fans, but as thoughtful but fun-loving people whose interest in Jane had spurred them on to research her era in their own way. The JASNA conference at Fort Worth might have been an easy target for scorn, but Amanda seems to have genuinely enjoyed the experience, and found, I think, to her slight surprise that the audience consisted mainly of powerful, genuine, intelligent women, typified by Dr Cheryl Kinney, below. The point was made that the members of JASNA who came together to share their admiration and love for this author, saw her on many different levels. All interpretations were welcome. This section was a delight.
For the committed Janeite, there was not much new to be learned. But I have done a little market research amongst my Christmas Guests- none of whom are Janites, but who have endured my obsession for too many years to number here- and they learnt a lot from the documentary. ( Do note that watching it was not compulsory in this house, but some brave souls did sit through it with me). They had assumed, incorrectly, that Jane’s fame has always been as great as it is now. Their surprise was palpable when they discovered this was not the case. They throughly enjoyed this entertaining and charming history of the cult of Jane. It was an interesting programme, and if you do not have access to the BBC Iplayer, where you can watch it again, here, then I do hope it will be made available to you on DVD soon.
This morning Amanda Vickery took part in BBC Radio 4′s Midweek Programme. You can listen to the programme again, here or, download it as a podcast, here. I do hope the those of you outside the UK can hear it via this route. As ever, fingers crossed….
It was a rather lovely edition of the programme today, with the beautiful Martha Fiennes talking about her digitization of The Nativity which will be screened in Covent Garden’s Piazza, and the wonderful Celia Imrie, one of my favourite actresses, who apparently was as lovely, warm and as funny as you would expect her to be.
Amanda was the last guest to be interviewed,( about 34 minutes into the programme). She talked, of course, about her forthcoming documentary, The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen, which will be screened on BBC2 on Friday 23rd December at 9 p.m. I thought she defended Jane Austen’s reputation very well,(some of Libby Purvis’s comments made me grind my teeth!My poor teeth! My poor Dentist!!) and also defended we obsessives and our, sometimes(ahem!) strange behaviour, and… she reveals that Captain Wentworth is her favourite hero ;)
I saw the trailer for the programme last night and it looks to be very rich and interesting .Can’t wait.
The BBC have now opened a webpage devoted to this programme which you can access here.
There are also three clips from the programme available to watch: the first has Earl Spencer reading( from a Folio edition of JAne Austen, if my eyes do not deceive me) an extract from Sense and Sensibility (to Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto playing in the background).
The second deals with the effect reading Jane Austen had on men in the trenches of the First World War,
and the third has a serious but affectionate view of the recent JASNA AGM in Fort Worth Texas.
It looks serious, affectionate, funny and very interesting. I can’t wait to see this when it airs on the 23rd December on BBC2 at 9.p.m.
is now scheduled to be broadcast on the 23rd December from 9 p.m.- 10 p.m. on BBC2
The Press Release for the programme gives us some hints of its content:
To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, Professor Amanda Vickery, one of the leading chroniclers of Georgian England, explores the ebb and flow of Austen’s popularity and the hold her fiction has on us now.
In this 60-minute programme, Vickery considers what it is about her plots and characters that continue to delight, amuse, console and provoke. Her fans insist her current popularity is due to the timelessness of the fictional world Austen created, but for Vickery the question is: Why have her novels gone in, and out, of fashion?
What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well as about Austen.
As you are aware, Amanda has spent much of the summer filming for this project all over the world, including at the Jane Austen House Museum, filming the sale of The Watsons manuscript at Sotheby’s, visiting JASNA’s AGM at Fort Worth in Dallas. She has also recorded her impressions of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath and has interviewed many experts, literary and non-literary, including Jocasta Millar, the Bronte scholar and author of one of my favourite books, The Bronte Myth.
I’m looking forward to it very much, and hope to be able to share my impressions of it with you, Christmas Preparations permitting!
…borrowing freely from the Muriel Spark novel ( one of my favourites too, by the way) is the official title given by the BBC to Amanda Vickery’s forthcoming documentary on Jane Austen, which will be aired sometime in December.
The BBC’s press office has released this plug for it, which gives an indication of the tone and content:
To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense And Sensibility, Professor Amanda Vickery, one of the leading chroniclers of Georgian England, explores the ebb and flow of Austen’s popularity and the hold her fiction has on people today.
In this 60-minute programme, Vickery considers what it is about Austen’s plots and characters that continue to delight, amuse, console and provoke. Her fans insist her current popularity is due to the timelessness of the fictional world Austen created, but for Vickery the question is: why have her novels gone in and out of fashion? What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well as about Austen.
Interviewing a variety of literary scholars, film directors and costumed devotees who attend the Austen conventions, Vickery also views the Sotherby’s sale of an incredibly rare, handwritten manuscript of an unfinished Austen novel.
The Prime Of Miss Jane Austen is part of Books On The BBC 2011.
As you know, Amanda is currently dashing all around the country filming this production, and will be attending the Jane Austen festival in Bath in September to observe and film some of the proceedings. Not in costume though,as she has made VERY clear on Twitter ;) I do think the production sounds intriguing, and I am very much looking forward to watching it. It is high time that we Thinking Austen Women( and Gentlemen) had something interesting to watch on television ;)
As soon as I get anymore news I will, of course, let you know. And yes, The Jolly Girls Outing for this year is now officially over, and a marvellous time was had by all, thank you all for your good wishes. Also the exhausting process of getting one’s dear daughter into University has been achieved. *Heaves great sigh of relief* Normal service will, therefore, now resume ;)
Serena Wagner as Fanny Price was being filmed at Townley Hall, Burnley by Amanda Vickery’s production company for her forthcoming documentary for the BBC on Jane Austen which will air, most probalby, in December this year.
You can see the first page of chapter one of the first edition of Mansfield Park printed on the backcloth, the plain white chairs upholstered with the same fabric, and poor Miss Price in unbearable dispair.
Professor Amanda Vickery’s splendid BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey is back, and is on excellent form.
The first programme in the new, second series of four programmes was first broadcast last Wednesday at 9 a.m., but can be accessed here to “listen again” via the BBC Website. This week’s episode concentrates on riots during the 18th century, and the section on the Gordon Riots, an uprising of terrible anti- Catholic violence put down with equal harshness by the army, and which occurred in London and the surrounding district in 1780, is absolutely riveting.
But does this have anything to do with Jane Austen, I hear you cry ? Most definitely, yes. In Northanger Abbey it is surely the folk memories of the Gordon Riots that cause Eleanor Tilney to be very easily alarmed upon misunderstanding an innocent remark made by Catherine Morland in Chapter 14:
Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded his short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”
Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, “Indeed! And of what nature?”
“That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.”
“Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?”
“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”
Of course, Catherine is talking of nothing more serious than of the publication of one of her horrid books, but Eleanor Tilney, the better informed of the two and with an emotional interest in any potential public unrest that might have to be put down by her elder brother, who is serving in the Twelfth Light Dragoons, leaps to some serious conclusions. Henry Tilney has to set matters aright in a very Mr Bennet-ish fashion( and not in a manner of which I approve, to be brutally honest with you, despise me if you dare):
“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”
This weeks programme features one of my favourite historians, Professor Peter King, whose books, Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England 1740-1820 and Crime and Law in England, 1750-1840 are two of my most favourite books on the subject. Go read them now if you possibly can. Completing the discussion panel are Dr. Katrina Navickas and Professor Tim Hitchcock, co-founder of the fabulous on-line archive, Old Bailey Online.
Amanda is currently filming for her BBC TV Special on Sense and Sensibility, which will air sometime in December. She recently sent me this picture of her being filmed examining The Watsons manuscript at Sotheby’s,which of course was recently sold for nearly £1 million. I thought you would like to see it, so here it is:
First, some news you will all welcome. Our good friend Amanda Vickery, now Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary College UNiversity of London is currently making a programme for BBC TV on Sense and Sensibility to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of its Publication this year.
It is entitled The Prime of Miss Jane Austen, in a nod to Muriel Spark’s famous novel, and we spoke about it on Twitter yesterday. The programme is again being produced by Matchlight Productions,who were, of course, the production company who commissioned our favourite At Home with the Georgians programmes, which were based on Professor Vickery’s book, Behind Closed Doors.
This is what their Press release has to say about it:
In The Prime of Miss Jane Austen Prof. Amanda Vickery returns to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility. When Jane Austen died her slight reputation appeared to die with her. Her books soon went out of print. Now, 200 years later, she sits at the summit of English literature and thanks to television and film adaptations, as well as the internet, she is an international cultural brand. What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well the hold Jane Austen’s fiction has on us now.
I will of course keep you informed of all developments. Amanda tells me the programme will be an hour long and it is due to be broadcast on BBC 2 in November or December of this year.
Next, Mansfield Park is being adapted as an opera.
The British composer Jonathan Dove and Heritage Opera will be performing it this summer, and I am lucky enough to be going to the first performance, to be held at the magnificent Boughton House in Northamptonshire, (seen below) in the presence of the owners, their Graces, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry.
How very fitting! An opera of this theatrically themed novel in a private house in Northamptonshire! I am a fan of Jonathan Dove’s works,since I saw His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, which was an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s amazing trilogy of novels. I will, of course, be reporting back to you on this….
…on the 7th March 2011, and is now available to “pre-order” on all the well-known sites.
This was one of my favourite TV series of last year, and Amanda Vickery fully lived up to the promise of the evidence of her live lectures, revealing herself to be a vibrant, sensitive and authoritative guide to the domestic habits of the differing classes of people living in the 18th century.
The series is sumptuously filmed on location throughout England and Wales, and is invaluable as a companion to Professors Vickery’s best selling and most excellent book,Behind Closed Doors upon which the series was based.
At present there is no sign of this being bought by foreign TV stations so if you have a multi region DVD( a must!) then I recommend you order this DVD now.
My reviews of the three programmes are accessible, here, here and here. My interview with one of the directors of the series,Neil Crombie, is accessible here and my interview with Professor Vickery about the series is accessible here.
This series has been throughly thought-provoking, and the final installment was no exception.
It realigned the balance of the series towards the other side of the seductive Georgian coin, and threw more light on the lives of the poor, the dispossessed and servants in this era.
It is all too easy to imagine that most Georgians lived in fine Palladian homes or wonderfully proportioned town houses or rectories,as we have seen in previous episodes, when, in fact, the urban poor lived hugger-mugger in the garrets and cellars of these houses, some fine, some distinctly not, and the rural poor lived in hovels, almshouses or, if they were desperately unlucky, in the dreaded workhouse with its dehumanizing system of operation. This programme was a discussion of mainly two parts: what were the property-owning Georgian ideas of privacy, what rights did these privileged property owners have, and to what lengths would they legally go to defend their homes? Second, what sort of privacy was allowed to the poorer members of society? How did they protect their property, such as they had? It demonstrated how the elegant architecture of the era reflected this strongly hierarchical society and its richer member’s new desire for privacy. And how servants and the poor had few resources open to them to maintain their dignity and property rights.
The lack of an effective police force and dependency on the watchman meant that many urban(and rural) homeowners defended their homes every Englishman’s Home was his Castle- to the nth degree. They used every legally defensive measure available to them,shutters and iron bars to secure their homes…
and the now thankfully outlawed mantraps, as used in the grounds of surburan villas in Kensington…
now in the collection of the Museum of London where they will do no more vicious harm.
And despite this being the Age of the Enlightenment and the rational age of reason, many homeowners were still afraid of the supernatural and the unknown enough to use charms and votive objects for added layers of protection( we think immediately of Mrs Norris and her use of” charms” in Mansfield Park!).In this Surrey household slippers and shoes were used as a supernatural lightening conductor to ward off evil…
The programme made a wonderful visit to one of my favourite “museums” (I search in vain for the right word to describe this place..an instalment…an experience?) Denis Severs House in Spitalfields,London.
A filmmaker’s dream,every still looked like a Chardin still life….
Even the dripping washing hanging in the Hogarthian garret was picturesque….
I shall restrict myself to only to three images…..but the point was made that the hierarchical Georgian society was reflected in these elegant buildings -the most remote and poorest accommodations available to only the poor and to servants….
The trusty iPad was again in use, here showing the degradation of life in garrets,where a whole family would eat, live and sleep all using the same communal “Jordan” or chamber pot. Squalid indeed.
A visit to Erddig House in Wales famous for its benign treatment of servants, was used to demonstrate the differences between servant accommodation and accommodation for their employers.The use of corridors,bells, separate servants wings , innovations of the 18th century, all combined to make servants lives more remote from their masters and increased their employer’s privacy…
(did you spot the spectacular sugar loaf in the kitchen at Erddig?)
Servant’s lives were prescribed not only by the architecture within which they lived, but by the rules imposed by their employers….
The ideal employer respected his servants privacy to certain degrees-they were still expected to obey the rules of the household within their own shared accommodation, but affairs with servants were seen as immoral and disquieting. The story of Benjamin Smith a Lincolnshire lawyer and his affair with his maid was pitiful in every respect.
We were shown a wonderful French secretaire dating from the 1770s which encapsulated the Georgian society of the time:beautiful but hiding its many secrets in hidden drawers- ”for dirty diamonds and love letters”- all kept away from the prying eyes of servants ,whose ability to gather knowledge of their employers doings was feared, especially in Crim. Com and Divorce proceedings…shades of Mrs Rushworth senior’s maid,who had exposure in her power…..
The pocket collection of the Victoria and Albert museum was accessed, the theft of a pocket begin analogous to rape ,so intimate was this pice of clothing used to hold a woman’s most necessary and private articles…
The gilt was most definitely stripped from the gingerbread of Georgian elite women whose privacy was not respected by their husbands, the jealous husband of Ann Dormer of Rousham in Oxfordshire (famous for its magical landscape gardens designed by William Kent) made her life one of unbearable misery and torture. She was under surveillance every minute of her life…..
…her lack of privacy was a constant mental torment to her, her sad state likened to living under a not-at-all benign dictatorship.
We were taken to Professor Vickery’s home , to see in Virginia Woolf’s words, her ‘room of her own‘ -her study- which she felt was essential for her to complete her work. And she sympathised with women such as Ann Dormer who never attained the peace and contentment their own small private space would have afforded.
The late 17th century concept of the closet, a small personal, private space where ones religious devotions coud be attended to in peace was taken up by the Georgians and expanded…
…into a small room where socializing could take place,where tea, gossip, chocolate and pornography could be dispensed,and where affairs could be conducted.
The hallucinogenic bargello work on the walls of the closet of Chastleton House in Gloucestershire was used to illustrate one of these tiny, intimate spaces ,where privacy could be assured. The point was made that it was usually the male head of a household who had the prerogative to withdraw from family life, surely resonant of Mr Bennet (and possibly Darcy when Mrs Bennet came to call at Pemberley)
For the poor or for servants, their only privacy was most likely to be found not in a room of their own but in a lockable wooden box where their precious effects coud be safe from prying eyes of employer and /or fellow servants for it was unlikely that many servants had a “room of their own”.
Hogarth’s series of prints,The Harlot’s Progress, a series with which Jane Austen was familiar was used to illustrate how Moll, the fresh-faced girl up from the country with her box, marked with her initials
eventually came to grief after a career as a prostitute, having her box ransacked by her own maid, while she was dying from some sexually transmitted disease. A metaphor for how low she had sunk in life and death.
The concept of owning property was for the Georgians the key to so many things:respectability, the right to vote, to be a magistrate….but for the less well off in that society what happened when your rights of property had gone, and you no longer had the comfort and respect that derived from owning your own front door? If you were lucky you were cared for in a communal charity like the many almshouses that were set up around the country. Below we can see the almshouses that were a charitable institution established by the Ironmonger’s Company, and form what is now the Geffreye Museum.
And while the living was communal with all its attendant rules and regulations, married couples could still exist in their own Gerogian version of a bedsit, living with dignity, despite having no property to call their own.They were the lucky ones.
The destitute had to fall back on very cold charity: parish relief and the workhouse. The workhouse at Southwell in Nottinghamshire which I have always found to be an almost unbearable place of sorrow, was examined.
Here families were brutally separated and forced to live in a communal way,something that Georgian society found so very distasteful.Husbands were permanently separated from wives and children separated from their parents. The school room of the workhouse,below,with its moralising verses to be learnt by rote…
..had frosted glass in the window panes to prevent the children catching an unauthorised glimpse of their parents,should they be fellow inmates.
This would eventually have been the fate awaiting Miss and Mrs Bates in Emma. Mr Knightley was actuely aware that they were doomed to fall even futher from the genteel life they once knew in the Highbury vicarage, (a life which terminated socially and financially on the death of the Reverend Mr Bates)should their Highbury friends not support them financially. Just as Jane Austen knew of such desperate tales. Poor Miss Benn who lived in abject poverty in poor, rented accommodation Chawton was befriended by her during the years she lived in her Chawton home, a cosy, private, comfortable cottage by comparison, in the company of her mother sister and best friend. No wonder she counted herself lucky to live there on her brother Edward’s graceful charity. And no wonder when the threat of losing that home loomed in her final years, the resulting stress was most likely to have contributed to the cause of her untimely death.
But we ended on a high note……from the unhappy desperate diaries of Gertrude Saville in Episode One,
the unloved unwanted spinster sister living in sufferance in her brother home on his charity…to the end of her tale, when she suddenly and unexpectedly became mistress of all she surveyed and had not only a room but a home of her own…
This episode ,indeed the whole series, explains and amplifies concepts that were dear to Jane Austen, notably the search for one’s home, a place of one’s own. She saw the lot of women in her era with regard to this very clearly: the powerlessness or not of women in the search for a home of their own is central to many of her stories. For example, Fanny Price’s conflicting emotions between her Portsmouth her Mansfield homes; Jane Fairfax’s terror and bravery when faced with surrendering forever her status as a gentlewoman to become a governess, a servant living on sufferance in someone’s home ;and the deserving Miss Taylor who on marriage finally achieved accesss (and a key) to her own front door. Food for thought.
Professor Vickery has been a knowledgeable, amusing, sensitive and delightful companion though this journey into the Long 18th Century, discussing concepts of home,property and taste, all concepts with which we are now familiar but then were distinctly novel for the newly emerging middling classes.
I have throughly enjoyed watching each instalment of this series and am saddened that there were only three. I do hope it becomes available on DVD soon ,and I do hope that you, my readers from outside the UK will get a chance to view it in way or another ,as soon as possible.
Amanda Vickery very kindly agreed to let me interview her about her BBC TV series At Home with the Georgians,which is enjoying such great success on BBC2 presently. I thought you might like to read her fascinating replies to my mundane questions before the last episode of the series airs on BBC2 on Thursday evening…so here it is.
The series is based on your book, “Behind Closed Doors” which I loved. Obviously you could not include all your real life characters in the 3 hour series so, when you were writing the series, what were your criteria for including a person’s story from the book?
The first challenge was to boil Behind Closed Doors (at a doorstopper 140,000 words) down to three one hour programmes. We carved it up into three big themes: Making Homes, Filling Homes & Protecting Homes. My key aim was to give each programme a strong over-arching theme. I had lots of meetings with Liz Hartford the series producer and Ross Wilson the executive producer from Matchlight films chewing over what would be the clearest thought-line – legible enough for non experts to enjoy without head scratching, but not so simplified as to do violence to the subtleties of history. However much I loved my characters if they didn’t serve the argument they didn’t make the cut. I especially regretted the loss of the rebellious Duchess of Grafton who strove to retain her standing in London as a separated wife. Alas. Another issue which governed our choices was whether there was enough visual material to support a TV case study. It is highly unusual for house, manuscripts and portraits to survive for individuals below the level of the greater gentry. Neil Crombie, the director of programme one ‘A Man’s Place’, was dismayed at first by the lack of beautiful well-preserved interiors in which to film. (John Courtney’s Beverly town house is no more; Wivenhoe is now a conference centre; Gertrude Savile’s Rufford Hall is a ruin etc etc.) But Neil and the wonderful researcher Eleanor Scoones were ingenious at finding ways around the absence.
They searched out the paintings hidden away in private collections of a mature Gibbs and Ryder – which I had never seen and encountered for the first time on camera. We went back to the manuscripts, the archives and I swanned about the surviving Georgian streets of Beverley and Exeter, Spitalfields and the Inns of Court. The dramatic reconstructions gave us visual diversity and a bit of relief from me talking to camera!
What was your favourite of all the stories you featured in the series and why?
For excruciating humour it has to be Dudley Ryder. We had over an hour of film of me pouring over the diary and responding to his ambivalences. I think barely 3 minutes were left in. As a feminist as well as a historian, and as a lover of realist novels, I have always felt it was important to understand the full humanity of men as well as women. Very few of the gents I have researched were the cardboard patriarchs of older theories. In fact, as bachelors they seem so self-conscious, gauche and half-baked it’s a wonder they ever headed up households.
Ryder went on to become solicitor general, but you would never have foreseen this from reading the diary he wrote in code aged 24. But I adore John Courtney too. In my mind’s eye he was something of a Mr Collins – deaf to female signals, desperate to be debonair and facing eight rejections with undiminished astonishment: “I was thunderstruck”.
What audience were you trying to reach with this series? Were you trying to reach people who are history nuts and have read your book or a completely new audience- for example, people who are fans of adaptations of Austen/Bronte/Gaskell novels not necessarily readers of the novel or indeed of serious history books?
I was asked to do the series by Janice Hadlow head of BBC2, who is writing her own 18th century history and who liked Behind Closed Doors as well as my first book The Gentleman’s Daughter. She enjoys characters, stories, details and arguments and thought viewers might too. The head of history at the BBC Martin Davidson hoped that I could make a series which would unlock a new audience for history programmes. All the surveys reveal that the current audience for history is predominantly male and middle-aged. Why should this be when women are the key audience for costume drama? Somehow a bifurcation of history has emerged on TV: putting it crudely, bonnets for the women and bombers for the men. I would love to reach an audience that wants to see a different sort of history (neither war nor Kings and Queens). I’m interested in producing documentaries which reflect what the history profession itself actually researches and teaches now. In BBC TV land, there is a vogue for “authoritative history” – i.e. history programmes written and presented by experts, rather than fronted by celebrities drafted in to go on a historical ‘journey’ of discovery or read a script written by the producer derived from textbooks. I was delighted to catch this wave.
Producers at radio 4 and BBC4 assume that the audience is keen on history. At BBC2 you can’t take that for granted. You simply cannot make programmes aimed just at 20,000 experts who have done all the background reading. The goal is entertainment and to draw a wide and varied audience into another world with colour and character, wit and pathos – all undergirded with a single driving argument. The BBC are thrilled with the result, as their investment in trailers testifies. What the audience makes of it is another matter of course. We have our fingers crossed that history refusniks as well as history buffs will switch on to discover that there’s more to history than tanks and tiaras. I am committed to a holistic history that embraces everywoman as well as everyman. I still sympathize with Catherine Morland. “Real solemn history I cannot be interested in… the quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all.”
How pleased were you with the end result?
I am delighted with three programmes – each reflects a collaboration with a different director, each with their own style and tone – ‘A Man’s Place’ with the theatrical and brilliant Neil Crombie (who shared my sense of humour), ‘A Woman’s Touch’ with the searching documentary maker Iain Scollay (who tried to catch me at my most honest and unguarded) and ‘Safe as Houses?’ with the stylish Phil Cairney (whose direction combined the formality of Neil’s and the observation of Iain’s). I also learnt a lot from the director of photography Dirk Nel, who had worked with several different history presenters. He instilled great confidence in me – which is half the battle – while training me to hit my mark. I will never forget him chanting “FIND the light, Amanda, FIND the light” before I set off on one of my rambles down a murky corridor. Almost everything was ad libbed to camera, so I am relieved that I came out with some coherent sentences. The aim of Dirk and all the directors was to capture my personality on camera. My friends say I am recognizably myself so in one key respect they have succeeded.
How much influence did you have in the choice of actors, locations and music?
The locations were driven by my research and availability, the actors were chosen by a casting director, Eleanor Scoones the researcher, Liz Hartford, the series director and Neil Crombie (who directed the reconstructions). All of them had read my book very closely – in the end I trusted to them. In an ideal world I would have directed the dramatic reconstructions myself! But even a control-freak diva has her moments of sanity and insight. The music was largely chosen by the directors, but I made my suggestions and had right of veto. Writing is a solitary process over which you exert total control, whereas TV is a collaboration with an army. You have to respect the talents and advice of your collaborators and accept that you are producing something which reflects them as well as you. Given my intellectual life (teaching apart) is quite hermetic, I loved working with a quick-witted and highly skilled production team. I am a gregarious person and relished the camaraderie. I also loved learning a new trade from them.
You allocated a whole chapter to Jane Austen in “Behind Closed Doors”. Do you consider her to have been an accurate recorder of late 18th early /19th century life? Did you find any of her plots/characters reflected in any of your real diarists’ lives?
I tried not to treat Austen’s work simply as descriptive evidence from which I could cherry pick juicy quotes to back up my arguments. Literary scholars are always accusing historians of simplistic cut and paste. But it is clear that Austen assumed that her readers were sensitive to the implications of taste and interior decoration. She relied on them to take domestic details (like Darcy’s gift of a piano to his sister, or General Tilney’s over-bearing choices of breakfast cups) as reliable signs of character. Even silly little tables had meaning.
Austen also relied on the social, economic and emotional importance her readers would attach to the drama of setting up home. When it comes to history, I hope my readers will make the same leap, and agree that domesticity is a universal subject, not a frivolous topic to be dismissed and patronized.
As for characters on TV, I rather enjoyed inserting Jane Austen herself into the narrative. She appears first as an anonymous spinster, living in what historians call a ‘spinster cluster’ in a small grace and favour cottage hard by the main road. Austen lovers will instantly recognize Chawton, but plenty of editors at the BBC were surprised when we revealed the impoverished sister to be none other than Austen herself. I wanted to show that however mocked by satire, the spinster’s life is no less heroic and productive than that of the smug marrieds.
Do you have another TV or radio project in the pipeline? If yes, can you tell us anything about it?
I am working on another Voices of the Old Bailey series with Elizabeth Burke of Loftus to be broadcast next summer on BBC radio 4, and we have been commissioned to produce a six part history of men and masculinity from the Medieval knight to the modern salary man. I am also working with BBC2 to develop longer span series which still aim to bring the Catherine Morlands of this world to an enjoyment of history. Floreat Clio!
Floreat Clio indeed, and may I add Floreat Amanda because I really do think our understanding of the lives Jane Austen chronicled would be considerably impoverished were it not for her scholarly endeavours. I should like to thank her for her patience and kindness in supplying me with such fabulous replies to my questions,even though at one point our computers stubbornly refused to talk to each other!
The final episode of At Home With The Georgians Airs on BBC2 Thursday 16th December at 9 p.m. I will be watching as usual and posting my review on Friday. Do watch it if you can. If you would like to embark on a reading project based around the programmes, Professor Vickery has kindly produced a short reading list, go here to see it (Do note many of the books will already be familiar to readers of this site!)
I do hope a DVD will soon be available, in the meantime enjoy: the series will remain available to “view again” for another week.
A confession. I do have to say from the outset that I truly adored this week’s episode. The series really came alive for me, Professor Vickery totally at home with some of her most interesting material, which she clearly relishes and she is obviously and authoritatively in complete command of all the intricate detail.
We began at Parham House in Sussex contrasting the Elizabethan, masculine Great Hall
with the 18th century feminised Drawing Room complete with harp. Mary Crawford would no doubt have approved.
The woman whose diaries provided Professor Vickery with much of her inspiration for this programme was Sophia, Lady Shelburne of Bowood House in Wiltshire and chatelaine of the most splendid town house, Shelburne House in Berkeley Square (now the Lansdowne Club)
In Professor Vickery’s words, Sophia was “a swot”, an intelligent, educated woman who became enamoured of the new fashion for neo-classicism
In search of inspiration in order to keep up with this new fashion, her diary entries show she visited the Duke of Northumberland’s home, Syon House originally an Elizabethan building, but one that was completely overhauled by the newly fashionable architect, Robert Adam…
to become a temple to the new taste….
incorporating detials from the evacuations at Pompei and Herculaneum in an impressive and sometimes exquisitely feminine manner.
When it came to designing their own town house/palace, the Shelburne’s commissioned Adam to design their dream home,a place suitably impressive for the politically ambitious Whig, Lord Shelburne,where he could entertain and impress supporters and government members alike.
We had a small trip to the architect, Sir John Soanes House Museum, full of its wonderful neoclassical collections(though it was not flagged up as Sir John’s house and it might have helped viewers unfamiliar with it,had it been…)
The consumerism of the 18th century one of Professor Vickery’s favourite topics-was examined. Matthew Boulton (my hero!)
and his genius for producing desirable goods for both the aristocracy and the middling classes was celebrated and we visited his home at Soho House in Birmingham.
He was shown to be a smooth operator when it came to selling and recognised that tapping into the female psyche guaranteed profits and full order books.
Chippendale and his revolutionary Gentleman’s and Cabinetmakers Directory, the forerunner of catalogue selling was examined….
And his innovative designs for male and female pieces of furniture,thereby guaranteeing double sales, was admired.
The ingenious nature of Georgian metamorphic furniture, as in this cabinet bed at Temple Newsam near Leeds was discussed
And the trusty Ipad was used to great effect when looking at 18th century adverts for
furniture polish (again there is nothing new in this world)
And it was also used to illustrate the dangers that awaited someone overwhelmed by the new taste ,who didn’t know when to stop: incorporating neo-classicism,Gothic, Ionic Orders and Chinoiserie in their suburban villas was a sure way to ridicule.
One of my favourite chapters in Behind Closed Doors dealt with the Georgians use of wallpaper and how accurate a barometer it was for interior design and taste. We visited Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath (the home of Lord Mansfield)
to see the wonderful collection of delicate fragments of 18th century wallpaper
including this scrap in the newly fashionable colour, yellow
and readers of Behind Closed Doors will recognise this fragment….
We saw Diana Spurlings women “doing it for themselves” on the Ipad
and visited Coles Wallpaper Manufactory where hand blocked and flocked papers are still made in the traditional manner, (a place I used to walk past on my way to catch the train to the office when I lived in London and used to peep through their open doors in the summer to see the magical process at work)
The new consumerism changed people’s social habits taking tea, for example, where you could show off your new china and furnishings, became all the rage,a subject Professor Vickery deals with in detail in The Gentleman’s Daughter. Jane Austen knew this feeling well, especially when she was ordering her own and her brother’s Wedgwod china….
Lady Stanley, a sad case whose husband denied her decorating and visiting rights showed the other side of this Georgian coin…..poor lady,played very sensitively in this programme.
Women’s own efforts to decorate their homes was covered,and Professor Vickery visited the marvellous Quilts exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum which I also visited earlier this year and wrote about here
The amazing work of a ten year old, above, was lauded…..
We visited one of my favourite eccentric houses ,the home of the spinster Parminter cousins,A La Ronde and saw its totally feminine design and decoration, a miraculous survivor into the 21st century
And made a moving visit to the billet books of the Foundling hospital, which I’ve written at length about here,where in this case, a woman’s patchwork was her link to her child( and this story and a happy ending for once)
Finally, we revisited Lady Shelburne’s magically feminine Robert Adam designed drawing room which is now installed in the Richard Rogers post modern Lloyds Building in the City of London. A lasting monument to the taste of the Georgians.
There has been some adverse comment on Professors Vickery’s style in the press and on the internet over the past week,especially regarding her raw reaction to seeing a portrait of her hero, Dr George Gibbs . This was, in fact, a very funny part of last week’s programme, for having built him up to be her ultimate “hero” in her mind, when he was revealed to be a rather ordinary looking chap, jowly jawed and all, Professor Vickery was rather loud in her disappointment, failing to notice what the cameraman did, that Dr Gibbs’ descendant, who was showing the portrait , bore an amazing resemblance to his great grandfather how many times removed. *snort* In this week’s programme we get the impression that Professor Vickery became very attached to two of her lady diarists, and in particular to Lady Shelburne. For myself, I love to witness this aspect of Professor Vickery’s presenting technique, for I think it is this honest sympathy for her sources which enables Professor Vickery to fully understand them and to bring them to life for us. She is also not “too cool for school” an attitude I embrace myself and this is I think, a refreshing change from some of our more staid presenters.
Go here to watch episode two on series link at the BBC. Next week is the last in the series. I shall be bereft.
Neil Crombie ,the distinguished TV director, producer and writer, who has been involved with making some of the most interesting documentaries of the past ten years, such as the riveting documentary on Grayson Perry, Why Men Wear Frocks and one of my husband’s favourites series, Philosophy: a Guide to Happiness, recently very kindly consented to give me his thoughts on producing At Home with the Georgians and on working with Amanda Vickery. My questions(in bold) and his replies are set out below. I do hope you enjoy reading them. The second episode of the series, A Woman’s Touch, concerned with the 18th century concept of good and bad taste, airs on BBC2 tonight- don’t miss it! And to whet your appetite, here is a link to the the trailer for episode two.
1) You were the producer and director of “At Home With The Georgians”. What made you want to work with Amanda Vickery on this series?
I’d actually interviewed Amanda once before, for a documentary where she was one of the “talking heads”, so I knew she’d be an exciting person to work with. But it was reading her book that really clinched it for me. I just thought it was magical the way she’d use often quite dry and dusty scraps of information – non-famous people’s account books and letters and diaries -and from them conjure up real living breathin people, whose stories, dilemmas and conflicts – sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking – I could really relate to. I thought: this is a historian with a real novelist’s eye.
So many of the stories she tells reminded made me of little 18th century novels in miniature – the vivacious young woman who has to outwit the dragonish mother-in-law; the hapless young law student who dreams of a wife. As television material, it struck me as gold dust. So I very quickly realised that it’s be a rewarding challenge to help Amanda try to bring these people back to life.
2) What audience were you trying to reach?
Well, two of the bankers of British television schedules are the Sunday night costume drama (and obviously I’m thinking particularly of those Jane Austenadaptations we all love), and the property show. And one of the ways to think about Amanda’s book is as an explanation of why that should be so. So we hoped we’d get as many of these genres’ audiences as possible. But also at the back of everyone’s minds on the series was the perception that history programmes on television are often very male in their language and focus. It’s always kings and wars and empires and weaponry and military derring-do. One of the things the Controller of BBC2, Janice Hadlow, who commissioned the series, was very clear about from the outset was that she hoped in some measure to redress that balance, and to see whether a more female audience might also be brought to history programmes. So it’ll be interesting to see whether that’s what happens. But certainly in my opinion it’s long overdue. It’s not just that Amanda is a bit different in her approach to the big male beasts of history television, the Starkeys and the Schamas. It’s more that the kinds of things she’s talking about – marriage, love, home, family, feelings, domestic politics, all the things Jane Austen talks about - are a vital part of our history too.
3) One of the means by which this series is sightly different from the norm is in its use of actors to re-enact the lives of some of Amanda’s diarists from her book, “Behind Closed Doors”, and not just employing voice- overs. I
think it works well as a device and makes their stories more immediate. Who was responsible for this decision? Was the casting of the actors difficult?
Before I’d come on board, the production company who made the series, Matchlight, had made the case to the BBC that there needed to be some sort of dramatisation. It just really helps you connect emotionally with the characters Amanda is talking about. But we all felt it was really crucial that we didn’t invent a single word – it had to be the unvarnished words of the diarists and letter writers she’d discovered.
And I hope your readers will agree that there’s a magic in seeing and hearing these ordinary people speak again in their own words from across the centuries. The difficulty in finding the actors wasn’t so much in casting people who could do it, but I was very aware that Amanda had lived with these people during her years of research and had very strong ideas of what they must have been like. And when you add to that the fact that Amanda’s husband, John Styles, is a distinguished costume historian, I did feel quite a lot of pressure to make sure of the historical verisimilitude of everything! But I think everyone’s risen to the challenge.
4) The locations used in the series are stunning- from the grand houses like Syon to the recreated workhouse. How did you choose which locations to include or exclude?
The choice of locations was very much led by the historical characters Amanda wanted to talk about. So yes, she does indeed take us into some amazing houses, but Amanda’s genius is to be able to relate them to the feelings and values and experiences of the people who lived there – and that’s what we’re all interested in.
But all of the dramatisations were in fact shot in four locations: two beautiful old early Georgian Huguenot weavers’ houses in Spitalfields, London, a little bit in Syon House, and also at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire (which sharp-eyed viewers may spot also
served as Buckingham Palace in the film Young Victoria).
5) For potential viewers in the US, Australasia, Europe and the rest of the world who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the programme, how would you sell it to them?Are there any plans to sell the series abroad? Are there
any plans to release a DVD of the series in the UK?
That’s really a question for the production company, Matchlight, but I’m sure they’ll be very keen to sell the series internationally, and it’s great to hear that you think there’s an appetite for programmes like this beyond Britain. So watch this space and we’ll keep you informed as and when we hear more.
I should like to thank Neil for his patience with my mundane and pedestrian manner of questioning( Journalist- in- Training Daughter shakes her head at my efforts)and for his generosity and kindness in answering the questions so fully, with such delicious detail. I do hope you enjoyed this different take on the series and how it was made.
Professor Vickery , above on the right, has just sent me notice of this- her overview of her series in her own words;)
It makes very interesting reading, and frankly I cant wait for tomorrow’s first instalment. Enjoy!
Go here to see it. Enjoy!
Professor Vickery sent me this stunning graphic today …
As you can see it is relatively self-explanatory. The good news is that the programme will be shown on BBC2 at 9pm on the 2nd, 9th and 16th December, which is of course the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birthday. I’m so looking froward to seeing this programme. The full trailer for the programme can now be seen on BBC. On seeing it last night my teenage daughter was very much impressed, despite the History Appreciation Gene being absent from her DNA! Good job BBC and Professor Vickery,together we will make an historian out of her yet….
If you go here you can listen and watch a video recording of Amanda Vickery’s great lecture given last week at Gresham College, on the subject of “What Did Eighteenth Century Men Want“, a very interesting view on 18th century marriage commitment and bachelorhood. Jane Austen would surely have understood and approved.
I hope you really have a great time enjoying listening to her brillianlty informative and amusing style, and viewing all her wonderful illustrations.