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…will take place next week.

I thought you might like to read a little about it  as the contents of the sale are fascinating and are especially so for people interested in the contents of country houses of Jane Austen’s era.

The sale of the contents of the attics of Althorp House, the home of the Earl Spencer and his family, together with another sale of some of the original contents of Spencer House in London, another family home but one which is now  let on a long lease, will take place next week at Christie’s Salerooms in Kensington. The object of the sale of these superfluous family items is to raise money for th £10 million restoration project at Althrop, which includes the rather expensive installation of a new roof.

Some of the most interesting articles on sale are the many carriages, including this wonderful George IV era livery painted State Chariot made by the celebrated firm of Baker and Son of Chandos Street, London. Its sale price is estimated at between  £50,000-80,000

The interior is lined in sumptuous ‘padua’ red watered silk, a family colour derived from the hunting field, and the roof is mounted with magnificent silvered coronets. As was customary, the coats-of-arms on the doors were updated over time and those on this chariot almost certainly date from its use for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.

These carriage are now very rare items. As Edward Clive, Director of Christie’s explains:

“The collection of Spencer carriages is the most impressive ancestral group to survive to this day, and we are thrilled to be able to present them at auction in July. A large number of carriages suffered as a result of bombing raids during World War II, particularly as so many were stored in mews stables in London. The Spencer carriages were moved to Althorp before they could suffer such a fate, and as such they are a rare and remarkable survival.”

But there are more modest items from our era included in the sale,  silver kitchen spoons and kitchenalia etc

Andrew Waters, who is the Director of Private Collections and House Sales at Christie’s London showroom has explained the process of clearing the attics of their treasure:

“We spent three months exploring the attics and storerooms at Althorp in order to prepare this sale, and it was one of the most interesting experiences of my twenty years at Christie’s. The auction will present a unique glimpse into the history of one of the country’s most important aristocratic families, and with estimates starting at £200, will also offer a very accessible opportunity to acquire works of art with a fascinating and distinguished provenance.”

I have to say I would have loved the opportunity of rooting around….

It will be very interesting to see if the Country House Sale Effect still holds sway over the prices; since the Mentmore sale in 1977, items associated with country houses have usually realised higher sale prices  then individual items put in normal sales.

The E-Catalogue is available to view here. I do hope you enjoy pouring over its pages,and like me, placing imaginary bids….and pondering the contents of its attics and how these items are at so much variance with the contents of mine…..

He then asked her to walk into the house; but she declared herself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. At such a time much might have been said, and silence was very awkward. She wanted to talk, but there seemed an embargo on every subject. At last she recollected that she had been travelling, and they talked of Matlock and Dovedale with great perseverance…

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 43.

Dovedale was and is a stunning part of the Peak district scenery. To curious travellers of the early 19th century it as one of the “must see” attractions. So, it was natural (and fortuitous!) that Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were able to talk about it in to fill that dreadful silence on the lawn in front of Pemberley House.

John Cary’s Map of Derbyshire, 1812

But, of course, Jane Austen had no personal experience of this  part of England. She never made  any documented trip to Derbyshire. The most northerly part of England she visited was Hamstall Ridware , just north of Lichfield in Staffordshire, the home of her Cooper Cousins whom she visited in 1806. Those who contend that from there she could have made a trip into Derbyshire and to Chatsworth, are I think mistaken. It was at least 40 miles away from the Cooper’s village, and would have entailed at least 2 days on the road and at least one overnight stay at an inn. During Jane Austen’s only known visit there  in 1806 the Cooper children were unfortunately taken ill  with whooping-cough and therefore it seems unlikely, certainly to me, that such a  complicated and quite expensive trip  would have been taken at that time.

Cary’s Map of Staffordshire (1794)

(section from John Cary’s Map of Staffordshire (1794) showing the position of Hamstall Ridware)

Caroline, Mrs Phillip Lybbe Powys  who was Caroline Cooper’s mother does make one mention of Dovedale  in her diary when visiting the Coopers at Hamstall Ridwre in 1800. But as she was visiting Needwood Forest for a grand picnic at the time she saw it ,  it is clear that she was viewing not the Derbyshire Dovedale which is in fact near to Ashbourne but that from a distance she was viewing  the vale of the river Dove on the Staffordshire./Derbyshire border  which can be seen on the top right of the section of John Cary’s map of Staffordshire above:

When the gentlemen retir’d from the dinner-tables they were placed in a more shady situation for tea and coffee against  the return of the ladies from their walks, after which we again took a very long promenade to view the most picturesque scenes. From some parts we saw Dovedale and other parts of Derbyshire.

(Passages for the Diaries of Mrs Phillip Lybbe Powys, page 338.

So how did Jane Austen know of the  attractions that Dovedale held? The answer lies again in books, and William Gilpin one of her favourite writers. In his book Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland etc ( 1786)

he describes Dovedale in great detail,and for once. this irascible writer is genuinely impressed with the beautiful scenery  the vale has to offer:

From Ashurn, which is among the larger villages ,and stands sweetly, we made an excursion to Dove-Dale.

Dove-dale is the continuation of another familiar dale, which is sometimes called Bunster-dale; tho I believe both parts of the valley are known, except just on the spot, by the general name of Dove-dale.

Bunster-dale opens with a grand craggy mountain on the right. As you look up to the cliffs,which form the irregular sides of this precipice, your guide will not fail to tell you of the melancholy fate of a late dignitary of the church, who riding along the top of it with a young lady,a Miss Laroche, behind him, and pursuing a track, which happened to be only a sheep-path,and led him to a declivity; fell in attempting to turn his horse out of it. He was killed: but the young lady was caught by a bush, and saved – A dreadful story is an admirable introduction to an awful scene. It rouses the mind; and adds double terror to every impending rock.

(Do note all these illustrations can be enlarged merely by clicking on them)

The bare sides of these lofty craggs on the right , are contrasted by a woody mountain on the left. In the midst of the wood, a sort of rocky-wall rises perpendicular from the soil. These detached rocks are what chiefly characterize the scene- A little beyond them,we enter, what is properly called Dove-dale.

From the description given of Dove-dale, even by men of taste, we have conceived it to be a scene rather of curiosity, than of beauty. We supposed the rocks were formed into the most fantastic shapes; and expected to see a gigantic display of all the conic sections. But we were agreeably deceived. The whole composition is chaste and picturesquely beautiful in a high degree,

On the right you have a continuation of the same grand, craggy mountain, which ran along Bunster-dale; only the mountain in Dove-dale is higher, and the rocks still more majestic and more detached.

On the left, is a continuation also of the same hanging woods which began in Bunster-dale. In the midst of his woody scenery arises a grand solitary pointed rock, the characteristic feature of the whole scene; which by way of eminence is known by the name of Dove-dale-church. It consists of a large face of rock,with two or three little spiry heads and one very large one: and tho the form is rather peculiar, yet it is pleasing. It’s rising a single object among surrounding woods takes away the fantastic idea; and give it sublimity. It is the multiplicity of these spiry heads which makes them disgusting; as when we see several of them adorning the summits of alpine mountains. But a solitary rock tho spiry has often a good effect. A picturesque ornament of this kind marks a beautiful scene at a place called the New-Weir, on the banks of the Wye.

The colour of all these rocks is grey ; and harmonizes agreeably with the verdure, which runs in large patches down the channelled sides. Among all the picturesque accompaniments of rocks there is nothing which has a finer effect in painting than this variation and contrast of colour between the cold grey hue of a rocky surface and the rich tints of herbage.

The valley of Dove-dale is very narrow at the bottom consisting of little more than the channel of the Dove which is a considerable stream; and of a foot path along its banks. When the river rises, it swells over the whole area of the valley and has a fine effect. The grandeur of the river is then in harmony with the grandeur of its banks.

Dove-dale is a calm, sequestered scene; and yet not wholly the haunt of solitude and contemplation. It is too magnificent and too interesting a piece of scenery to leave the mind wholly disengaged.

The late Dr Brown comparing the scenery here with that of Keswick tells us that

“of the three circumferences beauty ,horror and immesity (by which last he means grandeur) of which Keswick consists the second alone is found in Dove-dale”.

In this description he seems in my opinion just to have inverted the truth. It is difficult to conceive why he should either rob this scene of beauty and grandeur; or fill it with horror. If beauty consist in a pleasing arrangement of pleasing parts, Dove-dale has certainly a great share of beauty. If grandeur consists in large parts, and large objects, it has certainly grandeur also.But if horror consist in the vastness, of those parts, it certainly predominates less here than in the regions of Keswick. The hills, the woods and the rocks of Dove-dale are sufficient to raise the idea of grandeur; but not to impress that of horror.

On the whole Dove-dale is perhaps one of the most pleasing pieces of scenery of the kind we any where meet with. It has something in it peculiarly characteristic. Its detatched, perpendicular rocks stamp it with an image intirely its own: and for that reason it affords the greater pleasure. For it is in scenery as in life ; we are so struck with the peculiarity of a original character; provided there is nothing offensive in it.

So,even if she did not visit it in life, with the aid of guides and contemporary prints, as above, Jane Austen coud easily have discerned the character of the place,and realised it a such a subject as  could occupy two awkward loves-to-be  who were desperately searching for some neutral topic of conversation.

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 :-)

Like the idiot I can sometimes be, I forgot to inlcude images of  The Veiled Vestal Virgin in yesterday’s Chatsworth Interiors post.

She used to reside in the Sculpture Gallery and that is of course where she was seen by Elizabeth Bennet ( played by Kiera Knightley) in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Last year she was moved to  the exhibition space on the top floor of Chatsworth, but now she lives in the Oak Room next to the Chapel.

The Veiled Vestal Virgin is lifesize and is incredibly intricate as you can see from the photographs,(which can all be enlarged by clicking  on them),and was made from marble by the sculptor, Raffaelle Monti (1818 – 1881). She was commissioned by the sixth Duke of Devonshire -The Bachelor Duke-  on 18 October, 1846. She was  completed in 1847

My apologies for the omission ….

Yesterday we toured around the grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the home of the Duke of Devonshire. Today we shall visit the interiors,and  ever mindful of the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, there will not be many words in this post…but there will be many pictures ;-) The house has recently undergone substantial refurbishment and the tour of the house has changed considerably. So, even if you have been to Chatsworth within the past two years, a visit these days will be a very, very different experience.

The tour proper begins in the Painted Hall, the first ‘real’ room you enter after having gone through the north entrance hall….

The ceiling is magnificently baroque : do note you can enlarge all these photographs merely by clicking on them….

Many of you will of course recognise this room and the staircase as it was used  for one of the interior shots of “Pemberley ” in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice..more on this later….

For the first time in years the courtyard around which the house is built  is now open to the public.

As you can see it is still in the process of being restored

The gilding on the balcony is simply stunning..we can get very used to a “faded” look in country houses,but  this of course is not how they would have looked when they were first built….then they would have glittered like this in the sun….

The Chapel is a very baroque confection. Probably Fanny Price may have like such a room in preference to the cool  Palladianism of Sotherton Court, which was clearly based on the chapel at Stoneleigh Abbey).And here I apologise for the fuzziness of these photographs. Chatsworth is wonderful in that you are allowed to take photographs of absolutely  everything within the house. This is HIGHLY unusual and laudable in my experience. But even so, I cannot bring myself to use “flash” as I think it is too disturbing to the other visiors.So you will have to put up with my fuzzy pictures in some  rooms on  this tour I’m afraid…..

This is an appalling picture of the family gallery in the Chapel.

The tour then takes you to the top floor where there is a series of State Rooms Drawing Room,  Music Room, Bedroom and closet like Dressing Room, all now furnished as  if they were awaiting a special visit  in the 1680s when the house was first constructed

A 17th century buffet…..

17th century Delft tulipieres..complete with faux tulips

Yet more Deft

A magnificent  gilt dressing table set

More Delft…woud they miss one tiny vase I wonder?

A fabulous Venetian looking glass…I love the dark sensuousness of these rooms. They are terribly atmospheric….

The Picture gallery has been re-hung with a fabulous light green silk and new curtains. All the portraits appear to have been cleaned.They are simply stunning.

Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough….

And as the goddess Diana, the Huntress

Her son, The Batchelor Duke who was responsible for the enlargement of Chatsworth in the early 19th century is rather difficult to see in his new position….

But luckily an old photograph I have of him , taken from a better position, clearly  shows his odd resemblance to Matthew MacFaddeyn……

Some of the Treasures of Chatsworth are now on display…I adored this wonderful diamond tiara…

And the Staircase Hall has now been re-hung with its newly cleaned portraits:

Even George IV manages to look newly minted…(no mean feat)

For this season only there is a special exhibition to celebrate the life of the Dowager Duchess, nee Deborah Mitford.

This letter to her father, Lord Redesdale, was one of my favourite things. The Duchess ‘s father was of course the model  for the character of “Farve ” in her sister, Nancy Mitford’s  series of books beginning with The Pursuit of Love– one of my favourite series of books of all time (Austen excluded, naturally)

One of Chatsworth’s distinguishing features is the care  it gives to displays. These flowers were in one of the exhibition rooms simply to be beautiful…..

Here is a fuzzy picture of the Duchess’s coronation robes worn at the coronation of Elizabeth II( together with her page’s sweet outfit)

The Library on the ground floor is somewhere  I long to be left alone in…. on a windy winter’s night…next to the fire , book in hand…..(a girl can dream)

And the Great Dining Room always reminds me of Thornfield in Jane Eyre– a room of fire and ice

Silver galore….

The  room where Princess Victoria had her first grown up dinner party…..

Cranberry glass abounds……

And the passementerie is stunning……

The tour of the house concludes in the Sculpture Gallery..which again was used in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice...

It is a cool and lovely space……

With Napoleon’s sister

And his mother overseeing the proceedings…

Darcy is no longer there……

Nor is Lizzy Bennet’s  dress…….

With its beautiful detailing….

But I did see these items there  in 2006 and so I thought you might like to see them too.

So, there , our feet are now aching and we need to find some refreshment,and give Reynolds a very handsome tip….I do hope you enjoyed this little tour:-)

Professor Amanda Vickery has just sent me details of a little glimpse of her forthcoming BBC TV series, Behind Closed Doors.

If you go here, and click on “View the History  on the BBC Showreel” you can watch the current BBC History Department showreel which contains some teeny tiny glimpses of her first programme in the series ( just over 1 minute 20 seconds into the reel).

She is still filming the programmes, and as yet has no date for when the series will be broadcast, but the showreel does give you a little taste of her very appealing TV style ;-) By the look of the reel, there are some interesting programmes coming up- particularly the series by Lucy Worsley!

When I get any more information I will pass it on ;-)

**Update**  The Yale London Blog has now begun to promote the series: go here to see

(The West Front of Chatsworth House,with its gilded window frames glinting in the sun:

note you can enlarge all the pictures in this post merely by clicking on them)

The time fixed for the beginning of their northern tour was now fast approaching, and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs. Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent. Mr. Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour, and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.

Pride and Prejudice ,Chapter 42.

I will be discussing some of  the history  of the house and of  visiting  Chatsworth during the early 19th century in my post for Laurel Ann of Austenprose’s Group Read of Pride and Prejudice without Zombies on Friday, but recently I made my annual pilgrimage to  the Duke of Devonshire’s Palace of the Peak and  I thought I’d share some of my memories and photographs with you here .

Today we shall look at the exterior and the grounds, and in my next post the sumptuous interiors.

Here to give you some idea of the scale of the house and gardens is a link to Chatsworth at Google Maps:

If you dive into the zoom function you can see all the details of the grounds with astonishing clarity….

This is the South front of the house which overlooks the Canal Pond( excavated in 1702) and the Emperor Fountain

here seen from the windows of a room on the  third floor of the house.

It was designed and engineered by the 6th Duke’s great gardener and inventor , Joseph Paxton(the man who eventually designed the innovative Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition).

The fountain waas built with the thought that  Czar Nicolas of Russia might visit Chatsworth while on a state visit to England in 1844 .Sadly he did not arrive but the fountain was named after him in any event.

It  is on record as having reached the astonishing  height of 260 feet, and is gravity fed from the great reservoirs  created in the hills high above the house and gardens.

I can confirm that the author’s small son loves to be drenched by it on hot days….

The south facade of the house over looks this part of the garden,and fans of the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice will recognise the steps where Darcy and Elizabeth “met’ at Pemberley.

The garden on the West front is private, but can be viewed from the upper stories of the house. It is laid out in golden box, in the pattern of the floor plan of Chiswick House, Lord Burlington’s magical Palladian villa, once owned by the Cavendish family.

To the east of the house is Thomas Archer’s magical Temple, sitting majestically

a top the Casacde built for the first Duke in 1702-1711. As you can see people are allowed to paddle in it and I confess that on a hot summer’s day dipping my feet into the freezing water is a refreshing delight.

The gardens are full of magical garden features…

serpentine beech walks…

and the Willow Tree Fountain first planted in 1692. Which again is a delight to the author’s son( Note to visitors with children-be advised to bring with you  towels and changes of clothing!)

The house and surrounding scenery, viewed from the higher ground  above the level of  the casade is so beautiful…

The view is , in my very humble opinion, breath of Capability Browns best designs, maintained wonderfully ever since….

And here is a small video of the house and the cascade, compete with giggling children to give you some idea of the very happy relaxed atmosphere alway to be found in the grounds at this magical estate.

Please do join me next time,when we shall apply to the housekeeper  for a tour of the house….

Chawton House has just issued news of a new exhibition.

For three days only – October 7th 8th and 9th 2010-  there will be an opportunity to visit Godmersham House in Kent the home of Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, to view a case of books  which were formerly part of Edward Knight’s library and which now are in the possession of Chawton House Library. The hand written catalogue of the library dating from 1818 will also be on show.

The tickets are priced at £5 each and include admission to the exhibition and a catalogue.

On Saturday the 9th October  between o’clock and  12 noon and then between 2pm and 4pm Gilliam Dow of Southampton University, Jennie Batchelor of the University of Kent,and Katie Halsey of the University of Stirling will be giving a short series of talks on Jane Austen and the Library at Godmersham, The Austens and their Pocket Books,and Jane Austen’s Readers.

Futher details can be had from Godmersham Park Heritage Centre, telephone 01227 732 272 or by emailing them  on

heritagecentre-at-btconnect.-dot -com

replacing the words with the usual punctuation.

I feel a trip to Kent coming on…….

Yesterday, I had great fun at  Kelmarsh Hall’s second annual Country House Book Day.

Kelmarsh Hall, in Northamptonshire,  is a beautiful, small Georgian house,designed by Gibbs and Smith of Warwick, and has much in common stylistically and in size with its near neighbour Cottesbrooke Hall.

It is surrounded by parkland

a lake

the parish church

intimate gardens

and a walled kitchen garden in the process of being restored.

In addition to the fine surroundings yesterdays Book Day provided entertainment about houses and gardens with lectures being given by  leading garden writers and historians  to small but rapt audiences.

Amid these beautiful and fitting surroundings I went to listen to Amanda Vickery give her talk Out of the Closet: Love Power and Houses in the Eighteenth Century. It was as ever a virtuoso performance from Professor Vickery, author of the very interesting and rightly lauded book, BehindClosed Doors, and The Gentleman’s Daughter. She gave a talk full of riveting information and good humour. She told us about the universal need for a home,and what this need says  about us and about those who lived in the past ; how difficult it is to write about the home of the poor or even the middling sort for unlike the homes of the elite, few homes or artefacts from these classes survive into the 21st century; how responsibility for the different areas of a home were delegated between the sexes and how lack of a home was considered degrading for both spinsters and bachelors, those poor unmarried souls who had failed to achieve that most desirable  consumer object-a home of one’s own. She also discussed the concept of taste as defined in the 18th century and how this was viewed by the differing classes, ranging from the elite to the shopkeepers who supplied consumer goods to all classes. In all it was a marvellous bravura performance, totally enjoyable and very informative. If only all history lecturers were like this as my teenage daughter wistfully remarked  at the conclusion to Professor Vickery’s talk. Ah yes…if only….


If you go here you can downlad a podcast of a similar lecture Professor Vickery gave, the 2008 HarperCollins History lecture: I don’t think you need ITunes in order to play it, so I do hope many of you who cannot physically get to hear Professor Vickery talk will do this as it will give you a very good idea of her good humoured and intensely interesting style.

After the lecture I had the opportunity to take tea with Professor Vickery and amongst  other matters of important Austen-related gossip, she told me that she had been commissioned by the BBC to make a three-part television series based on Behind Closed Doors .I won’t give away details here but you can be assured that when  more information is available I will pass it on.

In all it was a wonderful day (and the English summer weather was kind for once!) and I am glad for this opportunity to share it with you.

Melissa Averinos of the inspiring Yummy Goods Blog recently visited our shores and had a marvellous time in London rubbing shouders with some of our most eligible actors, then had a fun filled day in Bath.

She has written about her day,where she walks( or runs!) in the footsteps of Jane Austen here and there she has also posted some beautiful and quirky photographs of the city.

Her partner in criminally enjoying themselves, Beth Dunn, has also written about their day in Bath on her blog, An Accomplished Young Lady, here

I thought you might like to share ;-)

…a place that has no connections with Jane Austen, save that it is not far from Cottesbrooke Hall which may or may not be the model for Mansfield Park, but which, ever year, holds a Country House Book Day, where lectures, demonstrations, wine tastings, book signings etc etc all take place in the house and gardens which are outstanding( having been restored under the tastefulk eyes of Nancy Lancaster, whose home was once Kelmarsh. She was the Virginian-born co-founder of the interior decorating firm of Colefax and Fowler.

I am finally (finally!!) going to hear Professor Amanda Vickery talk about her book, Behind Closed Doors, and I am looking forward to it very much.

I will of course be taking copious notes and photographs and will be reporting back soon :-)

Laurel at Austenprose has begun her mammoth Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Group Read, and has asked me to join in by contributing a couple of pieces on early 19th Century Tourism. So next week (the 25th June) I will be posting about Tourism and Pride and Prejudice in a rather general but hopefully interesting way, and then the following Friday (the 2nd July) I will be posting about William Gilpin and Jane Austen with  r particular reference to his influence on her writing of Pride and Prejudice.

So to ease us in to this theme, I’m going to be posting about a couple of grand houses with Jane Austen connections over the next week. And  both are still open to the public as they were in the early 19th century ( though now it is done on a rather more egalitarian and commercial basis) . In a few days I will be writing about Chatsworth but today I am writing about a much less well known but, in my opinion, equally spectacular country house, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.

Grimsthorpe is an ancient building, and has had a long association with the Bertie and Willoughby families. In 1516 it was given to William Willoughby, the 11th Baron Willoughby d’Eresby by Henry VIII on the occasion of his marriage to Maria de Salinas who was lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. In the early 18th century, the castle’s appearance was altered and it was given  a  fabulous  baroque north front  by Robert Bertie the 4th Earl of Lindsay who had become the first Duke of Ancaster in 1715.

The new front was commissioned to reflect his new ducal status. He employed  Vanbrugh the playwright/architect of amongst other housesCastle Howard and Blenheim, to undertake this work, which as you can see is fantastically overblown. I adore this style of architecture, even though it was short-lived in popularity. Indeed, by the time the front was finished in 1726 it was already out of fashion….

What is Jane Austen’s association with this beautiful place? The connection is made though her eldest brother James,

who while living in Overton,near to Steventon as curate to that parish, made the acquaintance of General Edward Matthew and his wife who also lived there.  The General’s wife was Lady Jane Bertie the daughter of the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.

(The 2nd Duke of Ancaster)

(the 2nd Duchess of Ancaster)

The Matthews had  three daughters and James married Anne the eldest, who was over 30 years of age when they married.

As Deirdre le Faye  shrewdly notes:

Anne Matthew must have seen in James Austen her last chance of matrimony, and he had a weakness for elegant aristocratic young women. The General and Lady Jane  “could not have  considered the young curate a good match for their daughter though as his uncle Mr Leigh Perrot had no children and he was his father’s eldest son, it was possible that he might some day have a comfortable income.” But for Anne’s sake they gave their consent to the marriage and made her an allowance of £100 a year.

(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, pp71-2)

The sole issue from this marriage was, of course, Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen who was born on 15th April 1793,

and who arrived with a great deal of help from her indomitable grandmother Mrs Austen :

Mrs Austen rose from her bed in the middle of the night and walked by the light of a lantern a mile and a half of a muddy country lane to attend her [daughter in-law] and to usher into the world a new grand child.

Sometimes I can’t but admire Mrs Austen however exasperated I might be by her in general…..

Anna’s godparents were the 5th Duke and Duchess of Ancaster.

(Brownlow,the 5th Duke of Ancaster)

(The 5th Duchess)

Anna Austen remembered meeting the 5th Duke and Duchess , while visiting the Austens in Bath in February 1803:

I remember the last Duke and Duchess of Ancaster and being presented to the former (who was my God Father) in the Pump Room at Bath being then about 10 years of age. My Grandmother Austen with whom I was staying took upon herself the introduction, after which I was invited once or twice to spend the day in Great Pultney Street where the Duke had a house…This Duke and Duchess had had one child a Daughter who married a handsome agreeable but dissipated Irish Peer and died early leaving one Son. This child was brought up by the Ancasters . He was rather younger than myself but I well recollect spending a day with them at Bath and giving him his first lesson in dancing

(See A Family Record page 138)

Ah, that Mrs Austen…… back to Grimsthorpe…

The castle maintains its fabulously irregular Tudor South front,

which overlooks the topiary gardens

and the East front

which in turn overlooks very formal gardens

and a formal potager.

The west front over looks the lake

which was the place where  in 1778,the English Mozart, Thomas Linley

met his untimely death while he was staying at Grimsthorpe with the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster ( who were of course Anna Austen’s aunt and uncle).

The Bath Chronicle of 13th August reported the accidental death as follows:

Mr Linley and Mr Olivarez an Italian Master and anther person agreed to go on the lake in a sailing boat which Mr Linley said he could manage but a sudden squall of wind  sprung up an overset the boat; however they all hung by the masts and rigging for some time till Mr Linley said  he found it was in vain to wait for assistance and therefore though he had his boots and his great coat on, he was determined to swim to shore for which purpose he quitted his hold but he had not swam above 100 yards  before he sunk. Her Grace the Duchess of Ancaster  saw the whole from her dressing room window and immediately despatched several servants off to take another boat to their assistance but which unfortunately came only time  enough to take up Mr Olivarez, his companion not being able to find the  body of Mr Linley for more than 40 minutes.

The church where poor old Thomas Linley is buried was the parish church used by the Ancasters,  in the neighbouring village  of Edenham. You can just see its tower though the trees in this picture taken from the south front of the castle.

The parish church of  St Michaels and all Angels, is open to the public too

and contains many fine monuments to the Ancasters.

This is a picture of the 3rd Duchess. Poor lady, witnessing such a scene.

Here she is in masquerade dress, standing before the rotunda at Ranelagh, the great pleasure garden in London.

Back to Grimsthorpe.

The interiors of the castle are wonderfully intimate , on a very humane scale, unusual in this type of house. One of my favourite rooms is the magnificent chapel, begun by Vanburgh but thought to have been completed by his assistant, Nicholas Hawksmoor.

It is a pale, peaceful confection of a room, still used for services, and is such as would not have satisfied Fanny Price in Mansfield Park at all…

They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”

“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.”

“It was foolish of me not to think of all that; but I am disappointed.”

(Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

Crimson cushions abound, however……

One feature of the interiors is that there are number of thrones kept in the castle, once used by various monarchs in the House of Lords. They are kept by the family as one of the “perks” of being hereditary Lord Chamberlain. This is George IV’s throne which he used at his Coronation Banquet.

So, there we have it: a marvellous and relatively unknown country house  with some interesting Jane Austen connections. I do hope you have enjoyed this short tour and that if you are in the vicinity you are able  to tour this fascinating house and estate.

As a sort of tribute to Jane Travers of the Jane Obsessed With Jane Blog,  whose homeland is Ireland,  I thought I would continue to post on a Jane Austen/ Irish theme this week.

As we already are aware, Eliza O’Neil was the Irish actress whom Jane Austen admired and who hugged Mr Younge Delightfully:

We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella”… She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge delightfully.

(See letter from Jane Austen to Anna Austen dated 29th November 1814)

and Id like to share with you a short biographical article I found about her recently in a copy of  La Belle Assemblee , published in January 1816:

I’ve scanned the pages in and added them here.  And all you have to do to read them in comfort is to enlarge them.

I love the florid language of these magazines of the early 19th century. And it is comforting to realise that celebrity worship is not a new phenomenon ;-)

Jane Travers of the Jane Obsessed With Jane blog has very kindly asked me to prepare a guest blog post on the topic of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park, and to try and explain why Fanny’s censorious attitude towards then seems to have been in complete contradiction to that of her creator, Jane Austen. So here it is, written with love for her ;-)


It is true that Jane Austen loved the theatre. Each time she visited London and her brother Henry she seized every chance she could to see professional performances. She had her favourite actors an actresses and was a keen but cool critic of their performances.  Eliza O’Neil of Ireland was a favourite:

We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella… She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge  delightfully.

(See letter from Jane Austen to Anna Austen dated 29th November 1814)

As was Dorothea Jordan. She was most miffed to have missed the opportunity of seeing Mrs Siddons in 1811:

I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons.She did act on Monday but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would all the places and all the thought of it were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance and  could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.

( letter to  Cassandra Austen of the 25th April 1811)

Her early works have numerous theatrical and farcical  elements, evidence of her wide reading of the 18th century theatrical cannon. For example, in Love and Freindship (sic)we find one of the most famous phrases in the Juvenilia:

“We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”

a line in which Jane Austen is in fact satirising a stage direction in Sheriden’s farce, The Critic,which was in turn satirising the discovery scene in Home’s tragedy, Douglas.

Jane Austen was even known to have taken part in private theatricals at Manydown House,the home of the Biggs Wither family as part of the Christmas festivities in 1808.

So why did she make Fanny Price so censorious of private theatricals in Mansfield Park?

The answer may lie in her own experience of private theatricals held at Steventon Rectory when she was a young girl. From 1782-90 productions of plays modern and classic took place in the dining parlour and later, when their ambitions for producing more professional productions took hold, in the Barn at Steventon.

Jane Austen’s brothers, James and Henry, appear to be the main instigators of this activity, and, indeed,  James wrote the prologues and epilogues for the plays they performed. Jane Austen was 7 years old when these theatricals began and 14 when they ceased.

In 1787 they probably used the barn as a setting for their plays for the first time. They performed the now  forgotten play, “The Wonder! : A Woman Keeps A Secret” (1714),written by Susannah Centlivre,  after rejecting a request by their guest, their glamorous and worldly cousin Eliza de Feuilide to perform “Which is the Man?” by Hannah Cowley, or “Bon Ton or High Life Above Stairs” by David Garrick.

(The Frontispiece of The Wonder from Mrs Inchbald’s collection of plays the early 19th century theatrical repertoire, The British Theatre.)

The Austen’s acting enthusiasm reflected the craze for private theatricals –the itch for acting- which became prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and certainly from 1770, almost all genteel British society was affected by the seeming urge to perform plays in private theatres.

And they had to be “private” and amateur; unlicensed paid public performances were illegal .The Licensing Act of 1737 stipulated a fine of £50 for anyone convicted of acting for “hire, gain or reward” in any play or theatrical performance not previously allowed by royal patent or Licensed by the Lord Chamberlain.

Marc Baer in his excellent book “ Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London” theorizes that private performances may have been preferable to many of the upper classes who wished to avoid the riots which were so prevalent a part of theatre going throughout the 18th century. Also that it was a step by the upper classes to distance themselves from the increasingly plebeian nature of performances at the two Patent theatres in London. They were once concerned only with productions of “serious” plays and opera, but were increasingly incorporating elements of pantomime, and melodrama, burletta and pure spectacle into the evening’s entertainment. In short the evenings were becoming vulgar. Horrors!

“It was beyond everything vulgar I ever saw…the people were hollowing and talking to each other from the pit to the gallery, and fighting and throwing oranges at each other. The play itself was a representation of all the low scenes in London… a sort of very low Beggar’s Opera, but it is impossible to describe the sort of enthusiasm with which it was received by the people who seems to enjoy a representation of scenes, in which, from their appearance, one might infer they frequently shared.”

(extract from a letter written by Mrs Harriet Arbuthnot, writing about seeing a performance of Life in London by Pierce Egan and George Cruickshank at the Adelphi Theatre in 1822.)

Some of the more prosperous amateur performers constructed very elaborate private theatres.  As Paula Byrne writes in her excellent book Jane Austen and the Theatre:

Makeshift theatre mushroomed all over England from drawing room to domestic buildings. At the more extreme end of the theatrical craze member of the gentrified classes and the aristocracy built their own scaled down imitations of London playhouses. The most famous was that erected in the late 1770s by the spendthrift Earl of Barrymore, at a reputed cost of £60,000. Barrymore’s elaborate private theatre was modeled on Vanburgh’s Kings Theatre in the Haymarket. It supposedly seated seven hundred..

We also know from records of the very elaborate and private theatricals at Richmond House- home to the Duke of Richmond  that these private theatricals could be very professional(and costly) indeed.

But they were sometimes accompanied by a sense of unease: as shown in this  letter written at the time of the Steventon Theatricals by another Austen  cousin, Philadelphia Walter who was being ever-so-gently bullied by Eliza de Feuillide to attend the Steventon Theatricals, and it throws a little light on the moral dilemmas these performances could cause, and reflects quite eerily in my opinion,  those  doubts experienced by Fanny Price:

“They go at Xmas to Steventon and mean to act a play “ Which Is the Man” and “Bon Ton”. My uncle’s barn is fitting up quite like a theatre and all the young folks are to take their part. The Countess (Eliza-JFW) is Lady Bob Alrdoon in the former and Miss Tittup in the latter. They wish me much of the party and offer to carry me, but I do not think of it. I should like to be a Spectator, but am sure I should not have the courage to act a part, nor do I wish to attain it”

(Letter dated 19th September 1787).

Opinions as to the desirability and correctness of “polite” females appearing on the stage certainly varied at the time, the position certainly reflected by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park. Members of the growing Evangelical Movement in the Church of England voiced grave concerns about such performances. The attitude shown by the Reverend Thomas Gisbourne in his work “An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex”(1797)

was typical. He took a stance very much against this type of theatrical performance. Remember- most actresses were still not quite “respectable” at this time in history, despite the success of actresses such as Mrs Siddons, who was a favourite with King George III and Queen Charlotte.

He wrote:

For some years past the custom of acting in plays in private theatres, fitted up by individuals of fortune, had occasionally prevailed. It is a custom liable to objection among others: that it is almost certain to prove, in its effects, injurious to the female performers. Let it be admitted that theatres of this description no longer present the flagrant impropriety of ladies bearing apart in the drama in conjunction with professional players. Let it be admitted, that the drama reflected will in its language and conduct always be irreprehensible. Let it even be admitted, that many theatrical talents will not hereafter gain admission upon such a Stage for men of ambiguous or worse than ambiguous character. Take the benefit of all these favourable circumstances; yet what is even then the tendency of such an amusement? To encourage vanity; to excite a thirst of applause and admiration of attainments which, if the are to be thus exhibited, it would commonly have been far better for the individual not to possess; to destroy diffidence, by the unrestrained familiarity with the persons of the other sex, which inevitably results from being joined with them in the drama; to create a general fondness for the perusal of plays, of which so many are unfit to be read; and for attending dramatic representations, of which so many are unfit to be witnessed”

Jane Austen read this work, on Cassandra’s recommendation, in 1805. She had expected to dislike it, but surprised herself by approving of it. But as Jane Austen took part in private theatricals herself  at Christmas in 1808 was merely performing in such a play a problem for her? I think not. But I think she did recognise, as Philadelphia Walter had done , that the experience could, in certain circumstances, be disquieting.

Amanda Vickery in her book The Gentleman’s Daughter notes;

“The donning of disguise and the doffing of decorum might be thrilling for participants but it could be disquieting to attentive observers, as novels such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) Maria Edgeworth’s Patronage (1814) and Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer (1814) dramatically demonstrated.”

In a note to this part of her text she adds;

“The narrative possibilities inherent in amateur performance were seized on by novelists, but assessments of the morality of female exhibition differed. Fanny Price piously refuses to take part in Lovers Vows, which rebounds to her credit…The pure and perfect Caroline Percy declines an invitation to take part in Zara, which in the event demonstrates the vanity of her rival, yet Caroline remains a sympathetic member of the audience…On the other hand, the “incognita” is allowed to give a dignified performance as Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband, which convinces many in the audience of her gentility:”

So….if these performances were so widely prevalent in genteel society, what could have particularly  upset Jane Austen, watching her brothers and her glamorous cousin Eliza as they rehearsed and performed this old play in 1787, so much so that she used her experiences in Mansfield Park, to reflect Fanny’s own discomfort?

I don’t think it was acting per se that gave her such discomposure.  I think it was motive and opportunity.

Let me explain.

The Wonder as performed at Steventon in 1787 was an old , not particularly well written play. It was set in Portugal and gives the opportunity for many declarations of patriotic fervour in praise of the British (Hurrah and Huzzah, would no doubt ring out from the  audience of young Austens) ). But the hero Don Felix, played by Henry Austen at Steventon, is given quite some liberty for ‘stage business’ with the leading lady, Violante, who played by Eliza de Feuillide. Look at this extract, as just one example :

Don Felix: Give me your hand at parting Violante, won’t you ? (He lays his hand upon her knee several times)Won’t you ..won’t you..won’t you….

Volante: (Half regarding him) Won’t I do what?

Don Felix: You know what I would have Violante.’Oh ! My Heart!

Volante (smiles) : I thought my chains were easily broken(lays her hand in his)

Don Felix: (Draws his chair close to her and kisses her hand in a rapture) Too well thou knowest thy strength.Oh!  my charming Angel, my heart is all thy own. Forgive my hasty passion, tis the transport of a love sincere. Oh Violante! Violante!

As George Herbert Tucker in his book “A Goodly Heritage “ writes;

“As Eliza De Feuililde had descended on Steventon that Christmas like a Parisian bird of paradise, and had according to family tradition, openly flirted with both James and his younger brother Henry, it is apparent that James epilogue was tailored to her specifications…Also considering her predilection to coquetry, it is easy to imagine she delivered the provocative lines with considerable biro.”

I am of the opinion that the young Jane Austen would have watched all these goings on with great interest. What ever she truly thought of it all, we will never know,but I think she abhorred the use of such a play to facilitate flirtations between the cousins and no doubt causing pain to one , two or all three of the participants. All done in full view of her, a child of twelve watching on the sidelines.

James eventually married Mary Lloyd of the Lloyds of Ibthorpe, long time family friends of the Austens, whereas Eliza eventually married James and Jane’s brother…Henry.

Marylin Butler can certainly be justified for making this comment on the behaviour of this trio;

“Detail from real life has plainly been absorbed in Mansfield Park and the vantage point of the younger sister, jealous and excluded by the casts intrigues has re-emerged as the novel’s distinctive mode.”

(Introduction to Mansfield Park, Oxford Classics edition.)

So when it came to writing Mansfield Park’s private theatrical sessions, remembering the events in the Steventon Barn in 1787, Jane Austen chose her play carefully. Clearly using The Wonder was too close to real life for comfort . Lovers Vows however, does give the participants extraordinary license for physical closeness in a way that would not have bene tolerated in real life(even under the negligent eyes of the poor chaperones Mrs Norris or Lady Bertram.) And this is the nub of Jane Austen and Fanny’s disquiet.

Sir Thomas it is certain would not approve of any performance whatsoever. But what he would certainly have disapproved of was the use of a play as a pretext for dangerous love games between engaged couples and their unengaged friends. Fanny’s reaction on first reading Lovers Vows ,with the knowledge of who would play the parts, makes her very uneasy:

The first use she made of her solitude was to take up the volume which had been left on the table, and begin to acquaint herself with the play of which she had heard so much. Her curiosity was all awake, and she ran through it with an eagerness which was suspended only by intervals of astonishment, that it could be chosen in the present instance, that it could be proposed and accepted in a private theatre! Agatha and Amelia appeared to her in their different ways so totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty, that she could hardly suppose her cousins could be aware of what they were engaging in; and longed to have them roused as soon as possible by the remonstrance which Edmund would certainly make.

Chapter 14

Forced involuntarily to watch the rehearsal between Edmund and Mary  in her cold  sanctuary of the East Room, poor Fanny  sees exactly what is going on: no real play-acting this, but an excuse for impropriety of a most dangerous manner:

She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow of theirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing to both to have any comfort in having been sought by either. They must now rehearse together. Edmund proposed, urged, entreated it, till the lady, not very unwilling at first, could refuse no longer, and Fanny was wanted only to prompt and observe them. She was invested, indeed, with the office of judge and critic, and earnestly desired to exercise it and tell them all their faults; but from doing so every feeling within her shrank—she could not, would not, dared not attempt it: had she been otherwise qualified for criticism, her conscience must have restrained her from venturing at disapprobation. She believed herself to feel too much of it in the aggregate for honesty or safety in particulars. To prompt them must be enough for her; and it was sometimes more than enough; for she could not always pay attention to the book. In watching them she forgot herself; and, agitated by the increasing spirit of Edmund’s manner, had once closed the page and turned away exactly as he wanted help. It was imputed to very reasonable weariness, and she was thanked and pitied; but she deserved their pity more than she hoped they would ever surmise. At last the scene was over, and Fanny forced herself to add her praise to the compliments each was giving the other; and when again alone and able to recall the whole, she was inclined to believe their performance would, indeed, have such nature and feeling in it as must ensure their credit, and make it a very suffering exhibition to herself. Whatever might be its effect, however, she must stand the brunt of it again that very day.

Chapter 18

This reflects I am sure, the feelings Jane Austen had as she watched her brothers and cousin play out their fantasies in public in the barn at Steventon all those years ago. Jane Austen saw the dangerous consequences of using private theatricals as a screen for playing a rather more dangerous game. And that is why Fanny was so censorious. She was, in my humble opinion,  reflecting Jane Austen’s dislike of the hypocrisy  to be found when “lovers” use such a situation to their own advantage.

I’ve just discovered a lovely podcast by Amanda Vickery on the subject of her latest celebrated book, Behind Closed Doors, and I thought I ought to share it with you.

If you go to Apple’s ITunes Store, search “Blackwell Online Podcasts”,  provided you have the ITunes  software on your computer, you can then download Podcast Number 54, which is a 12 minute talk  by Professor Vickery on the process of researching her book, and  on its contents-with a special section on the meaning of Georgian Wallpaper and an interesting comment on the colour green and Jane Austen !

And it is entirely free.



Again available on  ITunes there is an Episode of the BBC History Magazine podcast series, which includes an interview with Professor Vickery on her recent BBC Radio 4 Series A History of Private Life. It was very wide ranging and engaging series,based on Behind Closed Doors but the series had a much wider scope in time.It begins 17 minutes into the podcast.

I will be attending Professor Vickery’s talk  at Kelmarsh Hall,Northamptonshire, on the 20th June,and I will be reporting back to you on that.

This is truly one of London’s hidden treasures.

I first visited it when I lived in London during the 1980s. I had a meeting in the road where it was located, found it unexpectedly,and after the meeting treated myself to a tour.

It’s raison d’être is to record and comment on middle class English interiors and gardens from 1600 to the present day. The Museum is named after Sir Robert Geffrye, who was once a Lord Mayor of London,  and is set in almshouses which were built in 1714 at the bequest of Sir Robert.

I’ve been back many, many times since and I thought you might like to share aspects of its website which almost make up for any inability to visit in person.

Here is a link to its Period Rooms Virtual Tour And here is a link to its wonderful panoramas:the one of the 1790s parlour is perhaps the most relevant to us. I can see Charlotte Collins nee Lucas adopting this bright but elegant colour scheme in her backwards facing room…as opposed to Mr Collins’ book room which looked out onto the road affording many a view of the de Bourgh’s carriages ;-)

Here is a link to its Vitual Tour of the Period Gardens,an aspect of the past that is often overlooked by museums.

I highly recommend a visit in person if possible, if not then do explore this wonderful website for a really good flavour of what the museum has to offer.

This week has been a whirl of interesting goings-on mostly in the company of Karen from BookishNYC, and should you consider it has all been devoted to mindless pleasure, then think again….a lot of the gadding about will eventually be shared with you, for nearly everything done this week had a link to Jane Austen (of course!).

I’ll be posting about the places we visited soon but today I thought I’d carry on where the last post left off.

This is the view of Bath  that Catherine Morland,Eleanor and Henry Tilney would have seen when they reached to the top of Beechen Cliff in Chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey. ( Do note all the illustrations in this post can be enlarged merely by clicking on them.)

The Tilneys called for her at the appointed time; and no new difficulty arising, no sudden recollection, no unexpected summons, no impertinent intrusion to disconcert their measures, my heroine was most unnaturally able to fulfil her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself. They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

Again the view is taken from my copy of John Britton and Thomas Shepherd’s book, Bath and Bristol illustrated with views of Somerset and Gloucestershire (1829)

This 1803 map of Bath is annotated with the route the Tilneys would have taken from their lodgings in Milsom Street

to Bathwick via Pulteney Street.

This is John Britton’s  description of the walk and the view ; indeed he writes about the same route that Henry, Eleanor and Catherine would have taken, from Pulteney Street:

Among the pleasing excursions with which the neighbourhood of Bath abounds, none are superior in interest to those of its eastern vicinity; and of these the most attractive terminates near the pace where this view is taken. Our journey commences by passing over the Bridge to Laura Place Great Putney Street Bathwick and thence to Bath Hampton from which the village we are conducted either to the raceground by ascending to the right or pass through a range of beautiful meadows near the river to the village of Claverton…If the beautiful scenes which have given so much interest to this short excursions do not determine us to retrace our steps we shall proceed over Claverton Downs and after enjoying many pleasing views of the city, arrive at the noted station of Beechen Cliff, which commands and extensive view of Bath, with the Abbey Church nearly in the centre forming a most interesting object in the picture; and surrounding in every direction by extensive ranges of elegant houses: beyond the Abbey Church appears the Circus, The Crescent, Marlborough Buildings and St James Square with Camden Place to the right towards the London Road and other Splendid buildings

This map by John Cary of 1812 showing The Environs of Bath, is annotated with the route the Tilneys and Catherine would have taken.

John Britton is far less critical than Henry and Eleanor Tilney were  of the view:

They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance…

Henry and Eleanor are, of course, talking the language of The Picturesque, as promulgated by one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers, the Reverend William Gilpin. In his series of books devoted to viewing the English countryside while on his travels, he describes the views to be seen in terms of how they should be recorded in art. Very useful, but while he does this he manages sometimes to make the most amazingly pompous statements dismissing  certain magnificent aspects of the British scenery as unworthy of note as it did not comply with the rules demanded by adherents of the Picturesque

Here is a small but typical example of his style  in an extract from his book, Observations on the Western Parts of England etc., where he explains with withering references to the  rather beautiful Isle of Wight-The Isle– what he means by Picturesque Beauty:

Picturesque beauty is a phrase but little understood. We precisely mean by it that kid of beauty which would look well in a picture. Neither grounds laid out by art nor improved by agriculture are of this kind. The Isle of Wight is in fact, a large garden or rather a field which in every part has been disfigured by the spade,the coulter and the harrow. It abounds  much more in tillage than in pasturage; and of all species  of cultivation, cornfields are the most unpicturesque.The regualrtiy of corn fields disgusts,and  is out of true with everything else….

I love his style. And I think Jane Austen did too.  But I don’t consider she worshipped his every word, slavishly.  Oh, no. I think she loved him for his  pompous attitude ,which is unintentionally funny.  He absolutely brooks no argument whatsoever and dismisses out of hand any natural feature that does not measure up to his ideal of the picturesque.  The Tilneys are obviously Gilpin disciples: they were also able to dismiss a relatively stunning scene-the view of the city of Bath from Beechen Cliff-as not worthy of being captured by art. Jane Austen quietly pokes fun at them and him, for as she knew well, the view from Beechen Cliff is and was magnificent, frankly, having regard not just to natural but t also to man made beauty.

So there you are: a trip around Beechen Cliff in the critical company of the Gilpin inspired Tilneys.I hope you enjoyed it.

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