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I thought you might like to see this picture of the bible once owned by the Reverend George Austen which is to be used at the Evensong  Service at Winchester Cathedral tomorrow, which is to  commemorate the life and works of Jane Austen.

Here we can see Winchester Cathedral’s Canon Precentor Michael St John-Channell holding the bible near Jane Austen’s ledgerstone in the Cathedral. The Reverend  George Austen’s bible is normally kept at St Nicholas Church, Steventon, the church where he was rector. Jane Austen was born in the nearby Rectory at Steventon-now sadly demolished- in 1775.


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.

Apart from the connection with Otranto,there is another Austenesque connection with Walpole: Horace, along with his circle of friends including John Chute

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)

These miniatures, wonderful though they appear, are enclosed in an equally magnificently enamelled case:

Sir Kenelme’s wife died suddenly in 1633, and Sir Kenelme commissioned Sir Anthony van Dyke to capture her appearance on her death bed which was copied in this miniature

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.

She also designed the Wedgwood plagues used to decorate the interior of the cabinet

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.

Rebecca Smith, the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum yesterday posted about the costumes from the BBC’s 2009 production of Emma which are currently on show at the museum, and will be on display there until the 16th May.

Obviously it would be lovely to go and see them in person, but if you are unable to do so then,if you go here and here you will be able to view Jane Fariax’s tiny dress, Mr Knightley’s hat and the Ballgown Emma wore at the Crown and much, much  more ;-)

Winchester Cathedral have just sent  me details of the special Evensong Celebration of Jane Austen’s life  which is to take place next weekend.

Here they are for you to  share:

A special service to mark Jane Austen’s burial at Winchester Cathedral will feature her father’s 200-year-old bible.

The bible dates from 1793 and was used by the Rev George Austen while he served in his Hampshire parish. Readings will be taken from the bible during the service.

It is intended the May 1 event, which is to celebrate the opening of the Cathedral’s Jane Austen exhibition, will also redress the fact that only four people were at her funeral and none were women.

The celebration will see some of her descendents attending and taking part in the Evensong service. Jane remained very close to Hampshire throughout her life and the celebration at the Cathedral reflects her life story. Family from her close friend Mrs Lefroy will also be at the Cathedral for the service.

“This Evensong is the perfect celebration of the opening of our exhibition and Jane’s life,” comments Charlotte Barnaville of Winchester Cathedral. “By bringing her family descendents and supporters to her graveside, and reading from her father’s bible, we are making a wonderful connection with the past and recognising just how influential Jane’s contribution to our literary history continues to be.”

The family will be invited to process to Jane Austen’s grave in the Cathedral at the end of the service and be given the opportunity to pay their respects to one of Hampshire’s and the UK’s most famous daughters.

I have been invited to attend but sadly a long standing  prior appointment forced me to decline the very kind invitation. I would have loved to have been able to share the details of the service with you.

From the description above, it certainly does  look like it is going to be a very moving event and I wish all participants the happpiest of times commemorating Jane.

She, poor soul, is tied by the leg. She has a blister on one of her heels, as large as a three shilling piece

Persuasion, Chapter 18

I confess that when I first read Persuasion as a callow youth of 13 (all those years ago), I thought this was a piece of humour on the Admiral’s part,comparing his wife’s blister to something like a non-existent piece of coinage, rather like the infamous 9 bob note (which referred to a disastrously fraudulent attempt to print a 10 shilling note, a piece of information which once again gives some indication of my great age)

But no. These coins actually existed. So it was no joke on the Admiral’s part.

This is a picture of the coinage in use during Jane Austen’s life time:

The three shilling piece is shown  at the bottom right of the picture. And do remember you can enlarge this and all the other illustrations here simply by clicking on them.

But this is a clearer picture of a 1814 three shilling piece, that  I was lucky enough to find on my travels over Easter

The story of the 3 shilling piece is very interesting. In the latter years of George III’s reign, as a result of the shortages caused by the continuing Napoleonic Wars, the price of silver was high . Therefore  using silver for making coins became increasingly prohibitive in relation to the face value of the coins themselves, and as a result there was an acute shortage of silver coins available for circulation.

This as you can imagine caused problems for both tradesmen  and ordinary people. The Bank of England took steps to remedy this situation by issuing two tokens, not made of silver, which had values of three shillings and eighteen pence, between the years 1811 and 1816.

In 1816 a Great Recoinage took place, and after 1820 the tokens were no longer considered to be legal tender.

So,  just how large was the three shilling coin, and what sort of suffering was Mrs Croft undergoing?

On examining this picture you can see that the coin is in fact quite large: 1 and a 1/4 inches in diameter. And unless the Admiral was prone to exaggeration I therefore feel a great deal of sympathy for Sophie Croft, who would have been in a great deal of discomfort with a blister that size on her heel. Poor lady….no wonder she was tied by the leg in Gay Street ;-)

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.

Just breaking into my Easter Break from AustenOnly  once more to share with you the information that  you should be able to listen again to a BBC Radio 4 edition of Woman’s Hour presented by the lovely Jane Garvey, which today featured a piece on Jane Austen.

This is the BBC ‘s blurb about it:

As Jane Austen’s bicentenary decade begins, a new permanent exhibition celebrating her life opened on Saturday at Winchester Cathedral. Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility – the first of an incredible collection of novels that have secured Jane Austen’s place as one of the most prominent writers in the history of English literature. She died at the tragically young age of 41 in Winchester in 1817 and is buried in the cathedral there. Now, a permanent exhibition next to her grave will tell her life story and display Austen memorabilia that has rarely been seen until now. Charlotte Barnaville [Winchester Cathedral’s Marketing Officer] , Elizabeth Proudman [Vice Chair of the Jane Austen Society], and Rebecca Vaughan (whose one-woman show Austen’s Women opens at the Leicester Square Theatre London on 20th April) join Jane Garvey to discuss the life of one of Britain’s best loved authors.

Charlotte Barnaville of Winchester Cathedral , whom we know from her posting here , details some of the treats to be had  visiting the cathedral’s new permanent exhibition on Jane Austen: the burial register, which records the wrong date for her death; Henry Austen’s draft of the text of her memorial stone, presumably made for  the stone mason; a poem by James Austen on Jane Austen’s death; Jane’s poem about Mrs Lefroy etc etc. I simply can’t wait to visit this exhibit.

You may wish to know that Charlotte has just told me that the book accompanying the exhibition will be available soon, and she will let us know as soon as it is available to purchase on line.

Elizabeth Proudman of  The Jane Austen Society also has some very interesting points to make about Jane Austen and her life.

The Programme is available on the BBC’s Listen Again facility, if you go here you can access it for the next few days: the piece on Jane Austen appeared approximately 30 minutes into the programme.

And if you go here you can subscribe to the podcast which should  contain parts of today’s programme including the piece on Jane Austen.

I will be  back next Monday  after my Easter Break with details of two exhibits I’ve recently seen and which I think will of some interest to you ;-)

I am breaking into AustenOnly’s Easter Holiday( on Maundy Thursday and April the 1st of all days!) to give you some news that may excite my readers who live in the North Eastern US.

As you know Amanda Vickery,  author of The Gentleman’s Daughter has asked if I could keep you up to date with  her latest  events and the good news is that she  is to give a talk  on her latest book, Behind Closed Doors on Monday, April 12, 2010, at 6 p.m. at The Collectors Club, 22 East 35th Street, New York

But do note, reservations for the event must be made by the 5th April.

Here is a link to the website of the American Friends of the Georgian Group which give all the relevant details of the event and contact information.(Note, you need to scrioll down about a third of the way down the page to see the info)

Here is a link to the lovely Rae’s  account of her visit to hear Professor Vickery talk on this subject given at the home of the English Georgian Group at Fitzroy Square in London, which will  give a you a taste of what to expect.

I do hope some of you can get there to hear Professor Vickery. I have heard her give talks in the past and she is a very good and witty communicator.You won’t regret it , I promise!

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