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The latest tranche of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility are an interesting bunch. The first is a complex drawing and portrays for more than the quotation,

“I declare they are quite charming”

suggests. Mrs Palmer is referring to the drawings adorning the room in Barton Cottage where she and Mr Palmer have just been brought to meet the Dashwoods. If you will allow  I’ll quote the passage in full for you, below so that you can judge the complexity of the drawing for yourself.


“You may believe how glad we all were to see them,” added Mrs. Jennings, leaning forwards towards Elinor, and speaking in a low voice as if she meant to be heard by no one else, though they were seated on different sides of the room; “but, however, I can’t help wishing they had not travelled quite so fast, nor made such a long journey of it, for they came all round by London upon account of some business, for you know” (nodding significantly and pointing to her daughter) “it was wrong in her situation. I wanted her to stay at home and rest this morning, but she would come with us; she longed so much to see you all!”

Mrs. Palmer laughed, and said it would not do her any harm.

“She expects to be confined in February,” continued Mrs. Jennings.

Lady Middleton could no longer endure such a conversation, and therefore exerted herself to ask Mr. Palmer if there was any news in the paper.

“No, none at all,” he replied, and read on.

“Here comes Marianne,” cried Sir John. “Now, Palmer, you shall see a monstrous pretty girl.”

He immediately went into the passage, opened the front door, and ushered her in himself. Mrs. Jennings asked her, as soon as she appeared, if she had not been to Allenham; and Mrs. Palmer laughed so heartily at the question as to shew she understood it. Mr. Palmer looked up on her entering the room, stared at her some minutes, and then returned to his newspaper. Mrs. Palmer’s eye was now caught by the drawings which hung round the room. She got up to examine them.

“Oh! dear, how beautiful these are! Well, how delightful! Do but look, mama, how sweet! I declare they are quite charming; I could look at them for ever.” And then sitting down again, she very soon forgot that there were any such things in the room.

Chapter 19

Thomson of course , (how could he possibly resist ?) shows us the taciturn Mr Palmer buried in the newspaper, and, or so it seems to me, the conversation Mrs Jennings has with Elinor about her worries for her daughter health during her  pregnancy, quoted  in the passage above. Here, I think Thomson gives us a hint about Mrs Jennings true nature- that she is above all a kind woman, and this is the first hint we have in the text that she is not just a matchmaking gossip.When the chips are down, Mrs Jennings knows how tobe a nurse and a true friend. As the reader will discover much later in the book. I’m glad to see that Thomson gives, in his illustration, a hint to the reader too…

The second illustration really needs no explanation. It shows the sycophantic and  socially ambitious Miss Steeles being tormented by the spoilt and indulged children of Lady Middleton.

When their promised visit to the Park and consequent introduction to these young ladies took place, they found in the appearance of the eldest, who was nearly thirty, with a very plain and not a sensible face, nothing to admire; but in the other, who was not more than two or three and twenty, they acknowledged considerable beauty; her features were pretty, and she had a sharp, quick eye, and a smartness of air, which though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person. Their manners were particularly civil, and Elinor soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when she saw with what constant and judicious attentions they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton. With her children they were in continual raptures, extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring all their whims; and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of whatever her ladyship was doing, if she happened to be doing anything, or in taking patterns of some elegant new dress, in which her appearance the day before had thrown them into unceasing delight. Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow anything; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring, were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent incroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissars stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.

Chapter 21

I do think the Miss Steeles ought to look a little bit more pleased about the shenanigans of the Middleton children….what do you think?

The last illustration for this week is very subtle but good, in my opinion. This is the passage to which it refers:

To do him justice, he (Sir John Middleton-jfw) did everything in his power, to promote their unreserve, by making the Miss Steeles acquainted with whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins’ situations in the most delicate particulars, — and Elinor had not seen them more than twice, before the eldest of them wished her joy on her sister’s having been so lucky as to make a conquest of a very smart beau since she came to Barton.

“‘Twill be a fine thing to have her married so young, to be sure,” said she, “and I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome. And I hope you may have as good luck yourself soon, — but perhaps you may have a friend in the corner already.”

Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more nice in proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward, than he had been with respect to Marianne; indeed it was rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since Edward’s visit, they had never dined together, without his drinking to her best affections with so much significancy, and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F — had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor.

Chapter 21

SIr John is shown at the head of his table , throughly enjoying himself, raising a glass with which to toast Elinor taking the opportunity each time to tease her about her supposed affection for Edward Ferrars. He is not being malicious, because he really does very simply consider that it is entirely natural for every girl to have or want a “beau”. But poor Elinor…look at her body language. Stiff but slightly bowed. She is mortified. I think this illustration is one of the best in the book. And just look at the servant hovering by the screen. Sir John’s pleasantries will be reported downstairs, of that  we can be certain….

Lovers of Rowlandson’s works are spoilt for choice at the moment. Not only is there a wonderful exhibition of his works currently on show in the United States entitled, Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, but also two books have recently been published; the catalogue to the exhibition which I reviewed here, and another, Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life Art and Acquaintance by Matthew and James Payne.

It is sad that the catalogue writers did not have the chance to see the book before it was published, and not merely just some papers relating to it, for this now has to be regarded as the definitive book on Rowlandson’s life and works.

Gathering facts about Rowlandson is a difficult task, as the authors of this book acknowledge:

The biographer of Thomas Rowlandson encounters from the outset a frustrating deficiency of source material. Few letters to or by Rowlandons have survived. He wrote no journals. His character and activities are touched upon in the diaries and memoirs of a mere handful of his contemporaries. He surfaces only occasionally in the newspapers and pubic records of the period…..

Due to years of diligent research and painstaking tracing of his thousands of drawings, prints and engravings, the authors have  been able to provide this full and interesting study of Rowlandson’s life. By referencing and putting into context hundreds of his works they have been able to trace the journeyings of his life, and they have provided a vibrant portrait not merely of the artist but of the world he inhabited.

(Rowlandson by John Raphael Smith circa 1795)

Rowlandson’s sketches are some of his most interesting pictures and, to me, are far more valuable than any of his more polished  satirical works.Why? Because they give us a glimpse into the world that Jane Austen knew, and he depicted sights she saw nearly every day of her life. His rough sketches-the work of moments- have a vibrancy and immediacy and capture intimate and insignificant ( to others perhaps, but not to me) moments such this sketch of  The Delay or Accident in Popham Lane 1784

Or of this simple study of his old schoolmate and life long friend the famous comic/actor, Jack Bannister  having his hair dressed in his dressing room at Drury Lane theatre in London:

Whilst the more careful studies, such as this of a review of the Isle of Wight Volunteers drilling in Newport circa 1797, below, also give a flavour of a past world, and in this case  an indication of how the arrival of the militia in the town of Meryton would have looked to the Bennet sisters( not to mention their mother).

The book is profusely illustrated in colour and in black and white

and shows scenes with which Jane Austen would have been wholly familiar…indeed, of some to which her characters actually refer. This print, below,  is one of Rowlandson’s studies of A Register Office, probably executed in 1803, and is precisely the type of place Jane Fairfax refers to in Chapter 35 of Emma when in conversation with Mrs Elton:

“Excuse me, ma’am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something — offices for the sale, not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect.”

“Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”

“I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly, as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do.”

By giving entertaining explanations of some of Rowlandson’s more obscure works, the authors allow us to understand the society he portrayed and satirised. This cartoon, below, entitled  The Road to Preferment Through Clarke’s Passage refers to the infamous Mrs Clarke, the mistress of the Duke of York. Their scandal which broke in 1809 was due to the Duke’s misuse of patronage and corruption under her influence. He had arranged the promotion of personnel in the army and the church on Mrs Clarke’s urging.

The book is for such a serious academic study,eminently readable and enjoyable. I really enjoyed meeting the characters who surrounded Rowlandson, both in his personal life and in his career, and I especially liked the vivid descriptions of the publishing world of the late 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in relation to Rudolph Ackermann. Here is how the book relates how the Microcosm of London was conceived and executed:

He(Ackermann-jfw ) invited William Pyne to write the letterpress. The colour plates were to be designed by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson. Augustus Pugin was a small, forty-six year old Frenchman who had fled from Revolutionary France and settled to a career as an architectural draughtsman in London. He suffered from an inflated sense of status. His pedigree might have been according to family tradition, touched a long time ago by nobility, but its lustre had rather dulled in more recent time, and although he had good humour and charm enough to satisfy society he could exhibit a brusque pomposity as he intuitively played the Gentleman…..The series remained only an unrealized fancy until in about 1804 Augustus Pugin met Rudolf Ackermann. Ackermann was inclined to take under his wing talented foreign refugees in England. He listened to the proposals of Mr and Mrs Pugin and was soon persuaded of the viability and profitability of their scheme. He would direct, commission and publish. ….Ackerman’s brain wave was to entrust to Thomas Rowlandson the figures of all those Londoners who would be seen filling Pugin’s architecture….To partner  the traditionally minded “Comte de Pugin” with the comic and unruly Rowlandson was a bold stroke”

(The House of Commons from The Microcosm of London, with architectural details by Pugin and figures by Rowlandson- my collection, not in the book)

This is a gem of a book: highly entertaining, readable and so informative of  Jane Austen’s times, for her life overlapped with his. I can throughly recommend it to you.

Characteristically, Jane Austen is sparse in her description of Barton Park,  the home of the affable Sir John and the sadly less than pleasant Lady Middleton in Sense and Sensibility:

Barton Park was about half a mile from the cottage. The ladies had passed near it in their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of an hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance.

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 7

However, for many people it has been considered that Pynes, a fine William and Mary house in Devon, just outside Exeter and pictured above, was Jane Austen’s model for Barton Park, and further that she most probably visited it when she was holidaying in Devon with her family  either in 1801 and 1802.

This is my copy of the acquaint of Pynes that appeared in Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts etc.,  in February 1825;

In her book In the Steps of Jane Austen, Anne -Marie Edwards has this to say in support of her contention that Pynes was the inspiration for Barton Park:

Although there is no written evidence to support my belief I have planned this part of the walk to explore what I think is the part of the Exe valley which Jane calls Barton in Sense and Senibility….Jane always wrote about places she knew, and she must have and a specific large estate in mind. I feel sure her “Barton Park” is Pynes still, as in the novel, a “large and handsome house”. Then as now , it was the home of the Northcote family. The Dowager Countess of Iddesleigh(a title taken by the Northcotes) told me that traditionally Pynes has alwasy been linked with the novel and her view was confirmed by other local people. It seems likely that Jane and her family , while they were on holiday in Devon, were invited to stay there. They would probably have stayed at Pynes several days and Jane would have and time to enjoy some of the beautiful country walks that are undertaken by the equally energetic Elinor and Marianne in the novel. The village of “Barton” on the hill side, close to Barton Park, corresponds exactly with Upton Lyne. I tis more difficult to place “Barton Cottage: which we are told is about half a mile from Barton Park. No site seemed to me to fit all the clues given in the novel. However as I explored the area I concluded that Jane possibly imagined the cottage to be near the farm at Woodrow Barton-a suggestion that was first made to me by Mrs E .M.Cornall who lives locally….

( page 102)

This is a section from my 1812 copy of John Cary’s map of Devon which has been annotated to show the approximate situation of Upton Pyne ( indicated by the black arrow) in relation to Exeter and Crediton:

This is all very plausible, isn’t it? Save for the fact that we know that Jane Austen did indeed write about places she had never visited, and in fact the grater part of Mansfield Park is set in a county she had never visited once! However, for those of you who tend to the view that Pynes was the model for Barton Park,  then, listen! A rare opportunity presents itself, for  you now have the chance to purchase the house and 37 acres of parkland surrounding it.

The house is also currently being restored, and the current owner, Simon Robshaw, has very kindly consented to allow me to reproduce some of his photographs of the house so that you can see what it looks like today.

Situated 3 miles from the centre of Exeter, the house has six reception rooms, 10 attic rooms and a 37-acre park.

Pynes was originally the mansion for the Pynes Estate, which surrounds and protects the house principally to the north.

These views of the house show that it has not changed substantially since the Ackermann engraving at the top of this post was made nearly 200 years ago…

and the parkland is also very similar, with stunningly beautiful views of the Exe valley.

This is a view of the very grand Entrance Hall being restored…

This is the marvellous stained glass window in the Staircase Hall

Here we have a view of the Drawing Room…

and  below of the Dining Room, which does seem large enough to satisfy such a determined party giver as Sir John.

And here  is  the Billiard Room.

The house  is no for sale with Savills estate agents: go here to see. And whatever your thoughts on it being Barton Park or not, I think you have to agree it is a most pretty and desirable place to live.

Peterborough Cathedral was the place where Edmund Bertram sealed his fate, for it was here  that  he was ordained as a minister in the Church of England.  Mansfield Park was placed by Jane Austen in Northamptonshire, and then as now, the main part of Northamptonshire is part of the Peterborough Diocese, hence the reason why Edmund Bertram was ordained there, in his home cathedral.

Edmund was at this time particularly full of cares: his mind being deeply occupied in the consideration of two important events now at hand, which were to fix his fate in life—ordination and matrimony—events of such a serious character as to make the ball, which would be very quickly followed by one of them, appear of less moment in his eyes than in those of any other person in the house. On the 23rd he was going to a friend near Peterborough, in the same situation as himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week.

Mansfield Park Chapter 26

And, of course, in so doing he forever alienated Miss Crawford who viewed his career choice with some disdain for she so very much wanted him to do something smarter, and with possibly a less strong moral code, as their conversation in Chapter 9 very clearly indicates:

So you are to be a clergyman, Mr. Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”

“Why should it surprise you? You must suppose me designed for some profession, and might perceive that I am neither a lawyer, nor a soldier, nor a sailor.”


For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.

Interestingly , as we have noted the main action in Mansfield Park, takes place in Northamptonshire and Portsmouth.  While Jane Austen was familiar with Portsmouth, having lived at nearby Southampton and having two bothers in the navy, Northamptonshire was very much another matter.   It is virtually certain that Jane Austen had no perosnal knowledge of the county or of its cathedral.  It is clear from her letters seeking clarification on the appearance of the county while composing Mansfield Park, that she was wholly unfamiliar with it.  The only opportunity she had of visiting the county was in the summer of 1806 during her only documented journey north, to visit her Cooper cousins at Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire. However, on both journeys, north and south, she managed to avoid it completely. She travelled northwards through Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and returned to Hampshire via Warwickshire Oxfordshire and Berkshire.  At no point did she travel through Northamptonshire, though she passed nearby.

Therefore, unless she had seen prints of the Cathedral, she had no personal experience of the place that was so important for the course of Edmund Bertram’s life. Interesting. However , she may have approved of it for many reasons, not the least being that it is old, ancient, and not at all like the Palladian calm of Southerton’s chapel:

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.’”

Chapter 9

And if the presence of a Scottish monarch and banners are necessary to satisfy Fanny Price and her creator’s taste in places of worship,then Peterborugh Cathdral fits the bill ( well, almost….) We are better placed than Jane Austen and indeed Fanny, and can visit Peterborough quite easily here today, though in a virtual and digital manner ;) Shall we begin our tour?

The West front of the Cathedral is magnificent, as you can clearly see,  and was built between 1118 and 1238 A.D. The origins of the Cathedral can be traced back to King Peada of the Middle Angles who founded the first monastery on the site of the present Cathedral in 655AD. This monastic settlement was almost entirely destroyed by a Viking attack in 870 and was rebuilt as a Benedictine Abbey between 960 and 970. The Abbey church then survived another attack by Hereward the Wake in 1069, and remained intact until an accidental fire destroyed the second Abbey in 1116. It was rebuilt between 1118 and 1238.

It became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Peterborough in 1541 during the reforms after the break from the Roman Catholic Church and it is now known as the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew.

The Nave is both severe and serenely beautiful. This is the view from the West Door towards the high altar.

This, below, is the view from the choir stalls down the Nave, looking towards the West Door

The wooden painted ceiling in the Nave dates from 1230-1250 but has sadly been damaged twice by fire.

It is now fully and beautifully restored, and if you click on the photograph( as you can do with all the illustrations in this post) you can examine the exquisite detail.

The Victorian heating system is surprisingly effective (and very decorative,and similar to the system in Chester Cathedral, if my memory serves me correctly)

The choir stalls were not here when Edmund Bertram was ordained in the early 19th century. They were installed in the late 19th century but are magnificently carved, as you can see.

This slightly wobbly picture shows the view from the choir stalls to the Sanctuary and the High Altar.

Just above the north transept is the resting place of Queen Katherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife,who after her vigorous contesting of her sad and inevitable divorce, was sent to live at nearby Kimbolton Castle and that is where she died in January 1536.

The grave was in a forgotten and unadorned state until the early 20th century, when it was visited by Queen Mary, the wife of George V and a fellow Queen Consort (and grandmother of the present Queen). Apparrently saddended that a Queen Consort’s grave could be neglated in this way Queen Mary ordered that the symbols of Queenship, which included the royal banners of England, below,

and Spain, below,  should be hung above Katherine’s grave.

Queen Katherine’s grave still attracts many vistors, who pay homage to her, and in my picture below you can see the remnants of a bunch of flowers that had been laid on her grave.

The Eastern Buildings of the Cathedral, dating from 1500, are famed for this magnificent fan vaulted ceiling.

The marble High Altar in the Sanctuary  was not in situ whenEdmund Bertam was ordained there…

but the wooden painted and guilded ceiling, below, which is medieval,would have been in place.

Opposite the site of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s burial place, we reach the first resting place of the body of Mary, Queen of Scots…

who was beheaded at nearby Fotheringhay Castle, that “sacred place” as Jane Austen termed it in her History of England. This is all that remains of the castle at Fotheringhay.

She, too, is honoured by the presence of banners: of the Scottish national flag-the Saltaire–  the Cross of St Andrew

and the royal standard of the Scottish monarchs, below.

Though she was buried here after her execution- 9 months after to be precise – she is no longer buried at Peterborough. Her son, James, became King of England in 1603, and arranged for his mother’s remains  to be removed to   Westminster Abbey in 1612.

I can’t help but think that Jane Austen who was so attached to the Stuarts and to Mary Queen of Scots- that bewtiching Princess as she called her in her History of England- would have been moved by this first resting place of her heroine.

The cathedral is set in a large and peacful close…

with the entrance to the Bishop’s Palace to the left, above…

and just the other side of the  gates is the busy shopping centre of modern Peterborough: it is an amazing place of calm and peace amidst much bustle.

So, there you have it: a visit to the scene of Edmund Bertram’s ordination. I do hope you have enjoyed it.

You wil recall that last year we learnt a little about the actors that Jane Austen admired: Miss O’ Neil and Mr Young. As I have not written about Jane Austen and the Theatre for some time I thought today might be the day to resume our interest in matters theatrical.  Writing to her niece, Anna Austen, Jane Austen thougth that Miss O’ Neil was most elegant- one of her highest terms of praise for a female- but was not as good an actress as she had been led to believe:

We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella”. I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation. I fancy I want something more than can be.  Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkerchiefs but had very little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge  delightfully.

( Letter to Anna Austen, dated 29th November 1814, written from 23 Hans Place, London)

I have found another admirer of Miss O’ Neil, a contemporary of Jane Austen,  and thoguht you might like to share his impressions of her acting ability, to compare and contrast it with Jane Austen’s acute preception and theatrical criticism ;)

The person in question is one of my favouite diarists of the era, Joseph Ballard

Joseph Ballard  was a Bostonian, born in 1789 in Bromfield’s Lane, Boston, Massachusetts, where his father had a livery and hack business. In fact his father established the first hackney carriage business in Boston. Jospeh Ballard was mostly aself-educated man, but on his journey to England  and Wales in 1815 he kept what is now a fascinating journal, full of delicous detial of all he did and experienced, contrasting Amercian habits and customs with those he observed in England.

From his observations made in London, he was obviously a fan of theatre in America. So it is interesting to note his reaction to Miss O’Neil, with whom Jane Austen was ever-so-slighlty disappointed. And it is also interesting to note the tiny details he noticed and recorded, some that Jane Austen ignored, or just didn’t think necessary to note.

He first went to see Miss O’Neil on the 20th April 1815, when she was appearing in one of her most famous roles,Shakespeare’s Juliet. Here is his dairy entry for that night:

This evening attended Covent Garden Theatre. The outside as well as that of Dury Lane and the Opera is guarded by soldiers to keep proper order. The play was Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Miss O ‘Neil sustained the character of Juliet in a style which far surpasses our actresses as the celebrated Cooke did our actors.The funeral scene was extremely solemn; the friars and attendants were over sixty persons who chanted the service in the manner of the Romish church. The music and singing was very fine. The after-piece was ‘Lembucca’ a modern melodrama resembling ‘Tekeli’. The scenery and dresses to this were very handsome. There were frequently one hundred performers on the stage at once. The decorations of this house on the audiots parts ( in the auditorium-jfw) are not so elegant as those of Drury Lane yet I think the scenery more elegant.

There is always attending these theatres an immense number of women of the town( prostitutes-jfw). With the exception of the first boxes which are designated as dress boxes they go into all parts of the house and seat themselves as they please. I have often seen many of them in boxes with ladies and gentlemen apparently respectable. The streets are thronged with these miserable wretches who acost every person who passes along. Many of them  have no where to lay their heads and pass the night in the street in any corner which will afford them shelter.

At Covent Garden Theatre, Liston,( John Liston a noted comedian-jfw) one of the performers, is enuded with such comical powers of countanance  that one must have a perfect command of the risible powers to prevent himself from laughing before he utters a word.

(John Liston in 1817 by George Clint)

There are also some fine dancers at this house but these ladies are so thinly clad and throw themselves into such indecent postures that I think a New England audience  would not have tolerated them.

This is a much fuller and very different account of a night at Covent Garden that Jane Austen ever gives us, I am sure you will agree.

Then on 4th May, after having watched the procession of grandees arrive at St James Palace for a levee held by the Queen, Mr Ballard again went to Covent Garden to see Miss O’ Neil.

At night attended Covent Garden theatre to see Mr Kemble and Miss O ‘Neil in the play of ‘The Stranger’. The performances in this play were never in my opinion surpassesd for excellence. Kemble has a singular voice and I think is a little too formal and precise yet his acting is elegant. When I speak of Miss O ‘Neil I cannot find words to express sufficiently my admiration of her acting. It is said she excels Mrs Siddons when she first appeared opon the London boards. Her person is most beautiful. She posesses a fine tonic voice and a very expressive countnance.

I think we can clearly discern that Mr Ballard was rather taken with the elegant Miss O’Neil. Rather more so than Jane Austen,who was rather cool about her acting ability. But interestingly, he gives us far more detail of the evenings entertainment than Jane Austen ever did: a forgeiners eye picks up on details that Jane Austen most probably noticed but took as normal- the prostitutes-women of the town- sitting all around the theatres, the same poor wretches lying in squalor on the streets.

Mr Ballard has a lot more to say about Jane Austen’s England and so I think we can all profit by following him about. There will be more posts about his travels soon.Do join me, won’t you?

…then hie thee to Chawton on Saturday the 9th April, when the actors Hattie Morahan( who played Elinor in the BBCs latest production of Sense and Sensibility)  and Blake Ritson ( Edmund in ITVs production of Mansfield Park and the odious Mr Elton in the BBC latest production of Emma) will be paying a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum and  Chawton Village Hall to take part in a very special actors panel entitled  Always Acting a Part: A Panel of Austen Actors

This is a marvellous and rare opportunity to meet these two wonderful actors, to hear their thoughts on playing some of Jane Austen’s most interesting characters and also to put to them any questions you have  as to how they prepared for these roles and also how they interpreted their characters in the recent adaptations.

The Panel Discussion, which is  part of the Jane Austen’s House Museum’s celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility, will take place in Chawton Village Hall and commences at 8.00pm, but before that there will be a Pre-Performance Gathering in the Learning Centre at the Museum from 7.00pm

Tickets are now available to book  from the Jane Austen House Museum at the following prices : £17.50, Concessions £15.00 (to include pre-performance glass of wine). Under 16s £10.00. To book please telephone 01420 83262

And I’d hurry if I were you as I’m sure these tickets will soon be sold out! It’s not every day you have the opportunity to see (and more importantly hear!) Elinor Dashwood, Edmund Bertram and Mr Elton in the same room…;)

My dear friend, Jane Odiwe of Jane Austen Sequels fame, is asking for our help in trying to locate a picture which may have intriguing Austen family associations.

She has recently been publishing some very interesting posts on Ozias Humphrey and his paintings,( go here and here to see) and in the course of writing these pieces Jane has become intrigued  by the tantalising possibilities that this painting, below, offers:

(Please do click on the painting to enlarge it to see all the interesting detail)

It is thought by Robin Roberts,  the brother of Mrs Henry Rice( the owner of the famous Rice portrait) that this painting may be  a conversation piece depicting the  Austen family , executed circa 1780. He is of the opinion that it was commissioned to commemorate their son Edward Austen’s good fortune of being adopted by his rich and kind relatives, the Knights. It was once in the collection at Godmersham House but since the dispersal sale held there in 1983,  its whereabouts have been unknown.

This is what Jane Odiwe has to say about the history of the painting:

Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Robin Roberts discovered a very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! …The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.

If you go here to Jane’s site, you can read all Mr Robert’s speculations on the various allegorical meanings of the painting. He is of the opinion that  it may have been commissioned at the same time as the famous silhouette, below, which depicts  Edward Austen being presented by the Austens to his new adoptive parents:

My main concern (and remember I am no art historian!)with the painting is the exclusion of the other Austen children: only two boys are depicted.  If the family were celebrating their good luck, surely the  other brothers would be included in such an important commemorative piece, or only Edward as in the silhouette? And portraiture is not like photography: it does not require that  all the people to be depicted to be present at one time and place…But what do I know about it ;)

If anyone is aware of the whereabouts of this panting which was sold from Godmersham during the Christie’s sale of  June 1983, then perhaps they would be kind enough to contact either Jane Odiwe via her website, or the Jane Austen House Museum, here.  It would be wonderful if it could be found and further investigations carried out to see if there was any Austen family link to it, don’t you think?

The Tourist Office at Winchester have produced a new Jane Austen Trail leaflet and website to celebrate this years 200th Anniversary of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility.  They are both very interesting and will be very useful for visitors to Hampshire this summer who want to visit the main Jane Austen sites, for not only does the trail and website give historical data but much-needed travel information: this will be invaluable to Austen-tourists not familiar with the area.

The trail  plots the Jane Austen’s life in Hampshire chronologically, and includes information on Chawton Cottage, her family home from 1809 until 1817 and now the Jane Austen House Museum, which was of course where she composed and revised her six marvellous adult novels, and her final, unfinished work, Sandition.

I might quibble with about the veracity of a few of the statements in the leaflet, but then that’s just me being über picky ;) It is in fact generally very helpful, and I do like that it includes detail not only on the well-known Jane related sites such as Steventon, Chawton and Winchester, but also Southampton and Portsmouth (However, sadly I note that the Coastal Jaunts part of the website is not accessible to me : too many redirects)

The website is accessible here and the leaflet can be downloaded as a pdf. document here.

The Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis has recently announced an interesting programme of events for May and June this year. I thought you might be interested to hear of those that relate to Jane Austen.

First,  some events inspired by Thomas Corum, whom we know from my posts on The Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square and on their recent exhibit Threads of Feeling. Captain Corum was born in Lyme circa 1668. The Philpot Museum is to be host to the Foundling Museum’s touring exhibition on Thomas Corum’s life entitled, Foundling Voices. The Museum’s press release tells us:

This exhibition celebrates one of Lyme’s famous sons, Thomas Coram, who established the Foundling Hospital in London. Hear voices of former pupils of the Foundling Hospital recounting life before, during and after their time in the institution. Stories range from the heartbreak of leaving foster families to laughter of recalled childhood mischief; from the excitement and fear of going out into the world at the age of fourteen, to meeting unknown brothers and sisters and finding love and happiness with families of their own. This touring exhibition from London’s Foundling Museum will be in the ground floor gallery from 21 April to 31 May.

In conjunction with this exhibition on Thursday 5th May at 2.30 p.m.,  Anne Sankey will be giving a talk on  Thomas Corum and the Foundling Hospital, again at the Philpot.

On Thursday 12 May at 2.30 p.m. Diana Shervington will be giving  a light hearted talk entitled, JANE AUSTEN…WHY DIDN’T SHE MARRY? Diana Shervington is a Vice-President of the Jane Austen Society, and is a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight of Godmersham, and I think this would be a fascinating talk to attend.

Continuing with the Jane Austen theme, on Thursday 26th May, again at 2.30p.m. David Coates will be giving a talk on LYME’S LITERARY LINKS. Over the past 200 years, Lyme has been associated with many great literary figures and his talk will be a comprehensive one, beginning with Jane Austen and ending with John Fowles who was of course not only an outstanding novelist but also the curator of the Philpot Museum.

Then on Monday 13th June an event I really would love to be able to attend, beginning at the lifeboat station in Lyme, a walk around the town entitled LYME REGIS –AS JANE AUSTEN SAW IT, conducted by Fred Humphrey in the guise of Admiral Croft from Persuasion.

I confess I would ADORE to take a walk around Lyme with Admiral Corft…..but I fear commitments may prevent me from being there. You, however,may be luckier than I …if you do go give the Admiral my love won’t you?

Those of you who have not yet been lucky enough to have seen this wonderful series, written and presented by Professor Amanda Vickery,( shown above with two of her favourite characters, Lord and Lady Shelbourne) and which is SO relevant to understanding the era in which Jane Austen lived, will now have the opportunity to purchase the DVD.  It has just been released by the BBC and is now available to buy in all the usual outlets, shops or online.

If you are not familiar with it then do read my detailed reviews of the series, Episode One here, Episode Two here , and Episode Three here . As you can probably tell, I loved the series, particular Episode Two, A Woman’s Touch. You can also read my interview with Amanda Vickery  about the series here and my interview with Neil Crombie, one of the directors, here

If you live outside the UK and want to see the series this may be your only way of doing it, for, as far as I am aware, the series has not been brought by any overseas broadcasters. So its time to fire up those multi-region DVD players…;)

Sadly, there are no extra features on the DVD, but  there is much to savour and enjoy in the programmes themselves. The three programmes in the series were fabulously produced, directed and filmed last summer on location throughout England and Wales, at some of our most interesting buildings, from the  very sumptuous to the much less so. Written and presented by Amanda Vickery the series is based on her book, Behind Closed Doors, and is a wonderful companion piece to it. So, go to it , you will not regret it ;)

Today we reach the third in our series on Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility, which we are working on as part of our year of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the book. Out first illustration this week shows a very startled Mrs Dashwood, Elinor and Margaret, witnessing Marianne’s burst of emotion on quitting the room where she had been talking alone with Willoughby.(Do note the illustrations can all be enlarged by clicking on them)

Mrs. Dashwood’s visit to Lady Middleton took place the next day, and two of her daughters went with her; but Marianne excused herself from being of the party under some trifling pretext of employment; and her mother, who concluded that a promise had been made by Willoughby the night before of calling on her while they were absent, was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.

On their return from the park they found Willoughby’s curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced that her conjecture had been just. So far it was all as she had foreseen; but on entering the house, she beheld what no foresight had taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Marianne came hastily out of the parlour apparently in violent affliction, with her handkerchief at her eyes; and without noticing them ran up stairs. Surprised and alarmed, they proceeded directly into the room she had just quitted where they found only Willoughby, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his back towards them. He turned round on their coming in, and his countenance shewed that he strongly partook of the emotion which overpowered Marianne.

Chapter 15

Marianne’s distress (and that of Willoughby)  indicate in the text that something truly dreadful has occurred while they were alone. It is the first real clue given to the reader that Willoughby might not be all that he seems. In Thomson’s illustration we are only shown Marianne’s acute emotion,and the reaction of the Dashwood ladies. Who only look slightly stiff and not particularly surprised. I would have liked to have seen a view into the parlour of Willoughby standing at the mantle piece in distress….what do you think? And why only partially show Margaret? This illustration does not really work for me I confess.

Our next illustration shows the moment that Marianne realises the gentleman on horseback is not Willoughby,and is eventually shown to be Edward Ferrars,who is at last calling on the Dashwood family at Barton Cottage.

She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne from particularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby, quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk within her: and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when the voices of both her sisters were raised to detain her, a third, almost as well known as Willoughby’s, joined them in begging her to stop, and she turned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars.

Chapter 16

Again I find there is something lacking in this illustration: if I have a criticism of Thomson’s work it is perhaps that he fails to adequately convey moments of high drama/ distress. Marianne looks merely slightly started here, not almost crushed by disappointment. I feel that Mr Thomson’s best work involved humour and  not moments of drama…..what do you think?

This is again evidenced I think by the third of our illustrations today. Here we have the ever genial Sir John and his ally in all things involving gossip, Mrs Jennings, arriving at Barton Cottage to get that all important first viewing of the Dashwood’s hitherto unknown male guest.

Before the middle of the day, they were visited by Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, who, having heard of the arrival of a gentleman at the cottage, came to take a survey of the guest. With the assistance of his mother-in-law, Sir John was not long in discovering that the name of Ferrars began with an F, and this prepared a future mine of raillery against the devoted Elinor, which nothing but the newness of their acquaintance with Edward could have prevented from being immediately sprung. But, as it was, she only learned from some very significant looks, how far their penetration, founded on Margaret’s instructions, extended.

Chapter 18

This is perhaps my favourite of today’s illustrations,and I think shows that Thomson’s genius lay in portraying the amusing incidents/characters of the book. You can just see the delight on their faces as they weigh up the situation-a new man,whose name begins with an “F”….what sport  we will have now… wonder one of the Dashwood’s loyal maids looks on almost pityingly…

The best representation of the two and of this passage in particular, in any adaptation(, in my very humble opinion ) is in Emma Thompson’s 1995 film version where Elizabeth Spriggs, of blessed memory, and Robert Hardy taunt Elinor, egged on by Margaret innocently joining in the fun. My only problem with the illustration is the age Thomson has decided to attribute to Mrs Jennings and Sir John: would they really have looked that old? Sir John is described in the text as being near forty years old. (This is  something the film accentuated too)

Occasionally , on reading Jane Austen’s novels or letters, a reference jumps out at you …and you are puzzled. You simply have no idea what she is referring to… It niggles and niggles away …You have sleepless nights wondering what she was meant…You follow the paper trail and read copious books and manuscripts trying to find out what it was…then, sometimes, just sometimes, it comes a-right. The Holy Grail is discovered and explained.

This happened to me with the Merlin Swing in the Sydney Gardens, and I still remember the joy I felt when I discovered exactly what it was, though not how it looked ( go here to read about it ). The same with the tea board in Mansfield Park, and when I finally found an illustration of one (in a portrait of a rather self-satisfied West Indian merchant M.P.)another enigma was lopped from The Niggling List with relish.

And this passage from one of Jane Austen letters to Cassandra Austen has set me (and many others) on another hunt:

I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night. after all; I am to wear a mamaluc cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now; worn at the opera, and by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like.

( Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 8th January 1799)

Well, no actually Miss Jane, I cannot guess what it is like…and so the hunt begins.

First, shall we see what Hackwood Park looked like and why it was a hotbed of up-to-date fashion?

This is a print of Hackwood which appeared in Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions and Manufacture etc in September 1825. Below is a section from my copy of John Cary’s 1797 map of Hampshire which shows the estate’s position and dominance in the society centered around Basingstoke at the time Jane Austen was living near there at Steventon.  The estate appears on the map as the large green lozenge shape to the right of the section, and I have annotated the map so that you can see its position clearly.( You can also enlarge the map, and all the other illustrations in this post, simply by clicking on it)

This is the description from Ackermann’s Respository:

Hackwood is a contraction of Hacking Wood the original name of this place. It was the sporting retreat and occasional residence of the Pawlet family and their numerous relatives, when Basing-House was demolished in 1645 after a long and remarkable resistance. A lodge was then built for the residence of John the fifth Marquis of Winchester. Charles’s son, first Duke of Bolton, erected a splendid mansion in 1688; considerable alterations and improvements have been added since. The present carriage front on the north side is adorned in the centre with a noble Ionic portico, ascended by a flight of steps,and bearing in the tympanum of the pediment the arms and supporters of the family. An equestrian statue of George I mounted on a lofty pedestal and presented to that monarch to the family, stands at a small distance in front. It is this view of the mansions which we present to our readers. The south front was executed by the present nobleman from designs by Lewis Wyatt Esq. The rooms are spacious and magnificent and peculiarly adapted for comfort as well as display. In the saloon is a superb piece of carving by Gibbons. The family portraits are numerous…there are likewise two fine views of the Colosseum and ruins at Rome by Pannini.

The pleasure grounds are extensive and beautiful particularly on the south. Within these few years great improvements have been and are still in progress under the direction of the present Lady Bolton,whose taste in landscape gardening is generally admired, and is strikingly manifested in these grounds. The wood is wild and luxuriant in appearance. In its centre is a space of about four acres called the Amphitheatre, bounded by elms closely planted,  extending their branches over the sides and ends of the area, at the upper end of which are the ruins of a rotunda. The park is well stocked with deer.

At the time Jane Austen was writing about it, the house was owned by Lord and Lady Botlon.  Lady Bolton, Jane Mary Powlett , was the illegitimate daughter and eventual magnificently rich heiress of Charles Powlett, the 5th Duke of Bolton. Her husband  Thomas Orde-Powlett, took her name when she inherited the estate and others from the Duke. The Duke had failed to produce a son to inherit his title, and while the title could not be inherited by Jane due to her illegitimacy and sex, she could inherit the non entailed estates. She eventually inherited most of the Bolton estates on the death of her uncle,the 6th Duke who died without any legitimate male issue. Her husband was elevated to the peerage on 20th October 1797 by George III. He took the name of Baron Bolton of Bolton Castle in honour of his wife’s family. So I think we can assume that the latest fashions would have been worn at the virtual ducal home…

Which leads us to the conundrum in question…what exactly did Jane Austen’s mamalouc cap look like?

Constance Hill in her book,  Jane Austen, Her homes and Her Friends (1923) made the first  attempt at deciphering the riddle:

The word Mamalouc is given as Mamalone in Lord Brabourne’s “Letters of Jane Austen,” which is evidently a clerical error; the letters uc in the MS. having been mistaken for ne. The battle of the Nile, fought in the preceding August, had set the fashion in ladies’ dress for everything suggestive of Egypt and of the hero of Aboukir. In the fashion-plates of the day we find Mamalouc cloaks and Mamalouc robes of flowing red cloth. Ladies wear toupées, somewhat resembling a fez, which we recognise as the “Mamalouc cap.” Their hats are adorned with the “Nelson rose feather,” and their dainty feet encased in “green morocco slippers bound with yellow and laced with crocodile-coloured ribbon. (See page 76)

This was the explanation accepted by Dierdre le Faye in her edition of Jane Austen’s letters. However, in A Frivolous Distinction, a 1979 booklet about fashion in Jane Austen’s novels and letters, a slightly diffident description of the cap is given by its author, Penelope Byrde, who was the Curator of the Museum of Costume and Fashion Research Centre in Bath:

Caps worn in the evening could be quite elaborately trimmed like the one Jane Austen was altering in december 1798:

‘I still venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one as being smarter, and besides coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter. After the ball I shall probably make it entirely black’.But a little later she adds, “I have changed my mind & changed the trimmings of my Cap this morning; they are now such as you suggested- I felt as if I should not prosper if I strayed from your directions”

Another cap familiar to us from her letters was a Mamalouc cap she was lent on one occasion and which she said in January 1799 ‘is all the fashion now’. The vogue for Mamalouc ( or Makeluk) caps robes and cloaks had appeared after the battle of the Nile in 1798. A fashion plate of 1804 illustrating a Mameluck cap shows a white satin turban trimmed with a white ostrich feather….

(Page 7).

This doesn’t help us resolve the mystery does it? In fact it rather muddies the waters. As Marsha Huff, the past president of JASNA remarked in her review of the reissue of Penelope Byrde’s book, now in hardback and entitled Jane Austen Fashion:

I read “Jane Austen Fashion” hoping to learn more about the famous Mamalouc cap. I was, however, unable to reconcile Byrde’s description of a satin turban, trimmed with an ostrich feather, with that of Constance Hill (quoted by Deirdre Le Faye in the notes to her edition of Austen’s Letters), who wrote that a Mamalouc cap was a toupee, somewhat resembling a fez. Since Austen chose not to describe the cap she wore that January night in 1799, a fashion mystery remains.

I so sympathise with Ms. Huff’s frustration….But, perhaps the answer  now presents itself to us. I have tracked down a reproduction of the fashion plate to which Penelope Byrde refers. It was published in the Costume Society’s report of their 1970 Spring Conference, on The So-Called Age of Elegance.

In an article, The Costume of Jane Austen and her Characters, written by Anne Buck, who was creator and the Keeper of the Gallery of English Costume at Platt Hall, part of the  Manchester Art Galleries, and author of such influential books such as Dress in Eighteenth Century England, the mystery is finally resolved. In a note to the letter by Jane Austen  which inspired our quest she writes:

The original of this letter, first published by Lord Brabourne was not traced by the editor who in a note to the letter gives Miss C Hill’s suggestion of mamlouc, one of the contemporary spellings of mameluke.This is no doubt what Jane Austen wrote.

And then, praise be, she included this illustration of a mameluke turban which appeared in The Fashions of London and Paris, in February 1804:

As you can see, the cap is a combination of two types of “oriental” headgear:  the part of the hat immediately surrounding the face resembles a turban, and  the crown of the hat is reminiscent of the conical shape of the fez, as referred to by Constance Hill.

So, finally we have it. The Mamalouc cap as worn by Jane Austen and by ladies of fashion at the Opera and at Hackwood Park.  Another niggle is crossed off the list.

First, a warning: I so enjoyed this book that I devoured it and cannot really be truly objective about it.  It is a wonderful immersion into Brown’s world, with a fascinating list of well written characters, noble or otherwise.It is a page turner and a beautiful tribute to Lancelot Brown, the creator of many wonderful country house landscapes.

Jane Brown has long been one of my favourite writers on the history of gardening and gardeners. Her books on Gertrude Jekyll ( Gardens of a Golden Afternoon) and Vita Sackville West (Vita’s Other World and Sissinghurst)  have long been in My Favourite Books pile, and so I was delighted when she turned her inquisitive eye and elegant prose to “Capability” Brown. (An epithet never applied to him during his lifetime, it ought to be noted)

Lancelot Brown was responsible for creating some of the most sublime country house landscapes made in the eighteenth century. His work, which  achieved a timeless, effortless, natural effect, was distinguished from other lesser designers by allying beauty with practicality. He incorporated every need a great house possessed into  the surrounding coherent landscape, providing forestry areas, lakes, drives and ornamental walks that abutted working fields.Ever practical as well as aware of the art of landscape, he was also known as an agricultural improver. He worked at  most of the most famous and grand estates, and his work can still be enjoyed by visitors to these estates today. In fact so ubiquitous did his work become that many are under the impression that the effect was the result of nature, not his genius. Not so, as Griff Rhys Jones recently commented,  in a BBC programme about  Chatsworth. After viewing  the Brownian landscape that surrounds the house which is so exquisite, he irreligiously and wittily noted:

This is what God would have done had he had the money

And while God didn’t have the money, Brown’s many aristocratic patrons did. One of the first was Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire,(shown below in an engraving from my own collection). Brown’s work and the methods he employed there are very satisfyingly described by Jane Brown in great detail. Visitors to Blenheim, Chatsworth, Harewood, Burghley,Warwick Castle, Charlecote, Lacock Abbey and Wimpole Hall to name a few, can still see his work, in the landscape that surrounds these great houses. And there are many many more examples too numerous to list here (but most are mentioned in the book)

Jane Brown tells Lancelot’s story with ease and with a vivacity that makes it  as easy to read as the very best fiction. We not only follow his career, accompanying him on his ‘circuits’ around the grand estates of England and latterly in Wales, but we also are given insights  into his happy domestic life, meeting  his family and his circle, including his son-in-law the architect Henry Holland.  My favourite  character was his devoted Lincolnshire born wife, Bridget, known  as “Biddy”,  who ,while convivial enough with their friends, such as Pitt the Elder and the actor David Garrick, refused to be patronised by the grand dames who were the wives of Brown’s aristocratic patrons.

He began life in humble circumstances as  as the son of a Northumbrian yeoman farmer  but  due to connections and advantageous commissions expertly executed he became the man who set the fashion and style of English landscape gardening, rising to become The King’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court.

My only gripe with the book is that it while it is copiously illustrated in black and white line drawing and with colour prints within the text, they are few large-scale illustrations to show exactly what effect Brown achieved. For those of us lucky enough to be familiar with his greatest creations Petworth, Blenheim, Harewood, Stowe,etc- it is not much of a problem. But for those who may not be so familiar, I think it does him a disservice. While Turner’s impressionistic view of Blenheim – the sweep from the gate at Woodstock to the house is the magnificent view shown (see below)is included – a modern photograph might have conveyed  a little more of  Brown’s legacy, an effect that now seems so “natural” it is often taken as such.

Here is a photograph of mine of Chatsworth, taken last summer,  and the stunningly beautiful Brownian landscape can clearly be seen.(Please do click on this picture to enlarge it to see in detail how beautiful this landscape truly is)

Did Jane Austen approve of Brown and his works?Probably not. Her maternal family, the Leighs, had steadfastly refused to follow the fashion for landscape gardens at Stoneleigh, given their allegiance to the Stuarts and the old anti Hanoverian order. The 18th century  was a time when adopting fashions in grand gardens was very much a matter of personal and court politics, and their refusal to update Stoneleigh until the early 19th century reflects their stance.

The title  of the book, The Omnipotent Magician is taken from a passage in Cowper’s poem, The Task, wherein he directly criticises Brown and his profession:

He speaks. The lake in front becomes a lawn,

Woods vanish, hills subside and valleys rise,

And streams,as if created for his use,

Pursue the track of his directing wand,

Sinuous or straight,now rapid and now slow,

Now murmuring soft, now roaring in cascades,

Even he bids.

As we know that Jane Austen was an admirer of Cowper and one of her heroines, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, “her Fanny”, loved him too, and furthermore despised  “improvers”, it is probably safe to assume that she would not have been enamoured of this book or its intriguing subject. But I have been and recommend it to you wholeheartedly.

Today I have added a widget for the Austenonly photostream on Flickr to this page. You can access it from the side bar to the left hand side of the page, just below the Top Clicks section.

As you can probably tell, I adore taking photographs (even if they are of indifferent quality!) and often there is not the opportunity to share them with you here due to self imposed restrictions of time and applicability ;)

But if you would care to view some of my photographs of English country houses and the English countryside, some not relating to Jane Austen  at all( I know, who would believe I could be capeable do doing such a thing?!), then do feel free to wander along to Flickr to see them.

I will be adding to the account from time to time. At present you can see lots of previously unpublished pictures of Grimsthorpe Castle, Chatsworth and a set relating to the Duke of Ancaster’s Church,Normanton which is now almost completely surrounded by Rutland Water.

Since I began the series of posts about Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility, (accessible here and here) they have generated a number of emails and comments, both here and on Twitter, about the correctness or not of the costumes worn by the characters. What period do they reflect? Are they accurate ? And how do they relate to the text? I thought it might be helpful and interesting to discuss them and to compare them with costumes of the period.

The style of the clothes, particularly the clothes worn by the female characters in the illustrations, suggest to me that  Thomson set the novel very firmly in the period of the mid 1780s to the mid 1790s. To my eye none of the clothes worn by the female characters reveal any details of the fashions of the late 1790s, and certainly no one wears any dress that could  be described as having the raised waist of the revolutionary Empire style. These waistlines are defiantly placed  by Thomson along the line of a natural waist and are not raised to just below the bust line in any way.

So…why did Thomson use this period and not the costumes of the later period to reflect the time when Jane Austen was writing, adapting, revising the book in the mid to late 1790s and finally publishing her novel in 1811? It might be helpful, at this point, to look at the history of the evolution of this novel.

According to Cassandra Austen’s memorandum Sense and Sensibility was composed by Jane Austen in 1797.  James Edward Austen Leigh’s Memoir of his aunt , first published in 1869, contains this passage about the novel and the work upon which it was based:

It was, however, at Steventon that the real foundations of her fame were laid.  There some of her most successful writing was composed at such an early age as to make it surprising that so young a woman could have acquired the insight into character, and the nice observation of manners which they display.  ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ which some consider the most brilliant of her novels, was the first finished, if not the first begun.  She began it in October 1796, before she was twenty-one years old, and completed it in about ten months, in August 1797.  The title then intended for it was ‘First Impressions.’  ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of the former, in November 1797 but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of ‘Elinor and Marianne;’ and if, as is probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world.

It is thought that Jane Austen began Elinor and Marianne sometime in 1795:

If so she may have used it ( her writing desk-jfw) during 1795 when she embarked on her first full length project- ‘Elinor and Marianne’ the prototype ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Family tradition recalled that this too was written in letters and read aloud in this from….

(see Jane Austen: A Family Record by Dierdre le Faye, page 89)

Apart from the “flashback” scenes recounted  by Colonel Brandon, and possibly this passage in Chapter One of the novel which relates to events ten years prior to the beginning of the action in the novel, below, I cannot find any justification in the text for setting the novel as further back in time than 1795:

The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew, Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it.

However, I think that it may have been possible  that Thomson was aware in 1895 when he was working on the illustrations, of the novel’s history, and  that the novel had evolved from the first serious adult  work that Jane Austen wrote in 1795. This may explain why  he  chose to depict a period of fashion prior to the mid to late 1790s. It is my opinion that he chose an earlier time period, which had a distinctly different dress style to that of 1811 when Sense and Sensibility was first published, to pay tribute to the history of this publication.( Of course, I may be completely wrong in my speculations…..)

We ought now to consider if  the costumes as depicted were accurate for the time frame (1785-1795)that  Thomson chose.

Let’s look at some examples from the period and compare them with the Thomson illustrations. I think you will see that there are many similarities between them but some important differences.

This is a drawing by Rowlandson of the actress, Mrs Abingdon, reclining on a couch circa 1786.

These are real examples of clothing from 1785, the costumes are part of the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection.

This is Gainsborough’s famous portrait of Mrs Siddons dating from 1783-5…

And here is thomson’s Lady Middleton wearing a very similar style, including the hat….One of the first comments I noticed made about the costumes on Twitter was that , the hats are bigger than you will recall. Not necessarily so, bearing in mind the period Thomson was using.

And this is another work by Gainsborough, again dating from 1785, showing Mr and Mrs William Hallett in their Morning Walk……

Mrs Hallett’s gown is similar in style to the gown worn by Fanny Dashwood in this illustration.

And again the flounces found on some of Thomson’s  dresses reflect those to be found in  this  Angelica Kauffman depiction of Lady Elizabeth Forster, companion of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, in 1786

Looking at the hairstyles we can see that Thomson tried to emulate the fashion of the pre- Revolutionary era, especially if we compare Marianne’s hairstyles with Gainsborough’s 1785 portrait of Miss Catherine Tatton, below.

But……despite being mainly true to the period he decided to adopt, there is something slightly amiss, isn’t there? To my eye the silhouettes drawn by Thomson reflect those of the women of his own era, the late Victorian. The Sense and Sensibility ladies are corsetted within an inch of their lives, and their waists seem far smaller than the more realistic waistlines of the clothes of the period, as is shown in this robe a l’anglaise circa 1790, again from the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection:

And I do think that there is something indefinably late 19th century about the faces and the hats of the characters Thomson depicts.

Joan Hassell, the marvelous illustrator of Jane Austen for the Folio Society volumes which were published  in the 1970s, had quite a lot to say about illustrator’s desperate attempts to be historically accurate, in an address she gave to the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting in 1973. Her comments which are pertinent to this discussion, and if you will allow I will quote her here:

It is a fact that the artist cannot detach himself from the period in which he lives. However hard he persuades himself that everything is historically accurate, there is always a give-away somewhere even though it takes a later generation to see it. It is most often to be seen in the ladies hair styles and a general favour in the type of figure; and this is also true of theatre productions where Edwardian ladies in carefully designed historic costume have discarded neither hair padding nor corsets. Nowadays we may pride ourselves as having more specialised knowledge ,but I have a suspicion that future ages will be able to spot the date of our work by the 70s-ish slant to which we ourselves are blind

(Folio,the Quarterly Magazine of the Folio Society, Summer 1975 pp 3-4)

And this I think is what has happened here. The hair styles are nearly correct, but not quite. The wasitlines are smaller than corsets of the 1780s-1795 would allow….the same with the crowns of the hats…and the flounces.

Thomson quite rightly tried to convey to the reader the fact that  the novel was of a long gestation period, and dated the clothes from the period immediately proceeding its composition and publication to reflect this. Though he was generally accurate in depicting the clothes of the period 1785-1795, in my view he could not escape the influences of his own period, that  of the late Victorian, and it is the tiny differences in the stylistic details that do not ring true to us today.

The Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis is holding a talk which may interest Janites in the area. It is to be given by John Dover on the 24th March at 2.30 p.m., and the subject is Thomas Hollis. He  was the man who founded Lyme’s tourist industry in teh early to mid 18th century.

This is of interest to Janeites because it was probably due to his tourism promoting activities, that Jane Austen ensured that Mr Hollis, the first husband of Lady Denham in her last unfinished novel, Sandition, shares his name

Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster.


He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the original Three Cups Hotel at Lyme, the one shown above (and now sadly derelict)replaced it, and he  bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade). He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804, and which I wrote about, here.

I do hope that some of you can go to listen to what promises to be a very interesting talk about a larger than life character, whose legacy made a strong impression on Jane Austen.

Today I have something really special to offer you, an interview with Louise West, who has recently been appointed as the Curator of the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton. She has succeeded the redoubtable and rather wonderful Mr Tom Carpenter in the role and was the Education Officer at the Museum for many years prior to this appointment.

A few weeks ago I asked Louise if she would give us an interview, for I knew you would like to get to know her a little better, especially as she is the person who is now caring for Jane Austen’s very important Chawton Home. Amazingly, she agreed to do it….

So, here it is. I do hope you find it interesting.


Louise, you have worked at the Jane Austen’s House Museum for some years, first as the education officer and now as the curator, can you tell us when and how you first become interested in Jane Austen?

I was aware of her from a very young age and in my bedroom there was a copy of Pride and Prejudice with illustrations by Brock which my mother had received as a school prize in the 1930’s.  I first read beyond Chapter One when I was 15 (tried at 12 and got nowhere) and have been hooked ever since.

This is the question most Janeites hate, because it is almost unanswerable, but I’ll ask it anyway: which is your favourite Jane Austen novel and why?

Emma.  It was my A level text so I knew it in detail from early on but it still surprises me.  It’s also cheered my through sad times in my life.

Many people associate Bath with Jane Austen and are not aware of the treasures to find at Chawton. They often think it is difficult to access (most emphatically, it is not!) Yet too many people visiting the museum might endanger it’s unique and very special atmosphere. This is obviously a delicate balance to maintain, and I’d like to know what is your long-term vision for the museum, and your thoughts on attracting visitors to the house.

Let me say first of all that I can understand why people associate Bath with Jane Austen.  It is after all a Regency town and includes places specifically included in her novels.  However, I do want people in this country and worldwide to associate Chawton and Hampshire in their mind with Jane Austen, because this was her home county and Chawton Cottage (now Jane Austen’s House Museum) was actual home.  More importantly it’s the home where she did the majority of her writing – the reason for her fame!

The numbers game is tricky but I would confidently say that we are nowhere near breaking point.  There are times that are particularly busy in the summer but then there is always the garden to explore.  The winter months of November, December, February and March can be quite quiet and visitors can enjoy the special atmosphere of the house sometimes on their own.

We do want to encourage repeat visits and we are lucky that over the next few years we have the bicentenaries of all the novels to celebrate.

The next seven years are very exciting ones for Janeites with so many important bi-centenaries on the calendar, culminating in 2017 with the bicentenary of Jane Austen death.  How will the museum be celebrating this year’s 200th anniversary of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility?

In many ways.  All our events this year are themed around Sense and Sensibility, and these will include concerts, talks and relevant displays. (Go here to see more details of the events.) We will be having regular readings from the novel by our staff and volunteers who have been helped by our wonderful patron, Elizabeth Garvie. (Whom you will all recognize in her photograph, below, for she is a general Janeite favourite, her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in the 1981 production of Pride and Prejudice produced by the BBC is considered one of the best, and her stage performances in A Celebration of Jane Austen, with her late husband, Anton Rogers and now with Robert Powell, are acclaimed- jfw)

May I ask about the new edition of about the new edition of Sense and Sensibility that the Jane Austen House Museum is publishing this year? Is this going to be the first of a series of all six of the novels? Can you let us have some details about the book: for example, will it be published in hardback and paperback format, will it be annotated and will it be illustrated? And can we order it from the Museum shop?

We are very excited about this venture as you can imagine – publishing Jane’s first novel 200 years after it was first published from this very house. Our aim at this stage is certainly to publish all 6 novels in the same format over the next few years. It will be a hardback copy with covers very similar to the original board ones, but it will be in one volume and not three.  As with the original it will not be annotated or illustrated, but, it will have a foreword by our patron, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, renowned Austen scholar, from Oxford University.  Yes, you will be able to order it from the museum shop.

The newly refurbished kitchen has been beautifully renovated, and is a wonderfully inviting space. Do you have any plans to use it for public events, and do you plan to use it in conjunction with Martha Lloyd’s amazing household book?

We already use the kitchen for certain events.  We have held herb workshops in there and we often use it for intimate sessions with small groups.  It’s also a very nice venue for refreshments at evening events.  We do have plans to use the recipe book in new and creative ways, but these are still in development.  Watch this space!


This all sounds rather exciting, intriguing and yet comforting at the same time. It is wonderful to note that Jane Austen’s house is in such good and capable hands, and I do look forward to the development of Chawton under Louise’s tenure very much. I should like to thank her for her time and for her  gracious answers to my rudimentary questions, and I hope many of you will visit Louise at the Museum.


Today we continue our series of posts on the illustrations made by Hugh Thompson for the Macmillan edition of Sense and Sensibility in the late nineteenth century. Do remember that they can all be enlarged , in order to examine the detail, merely by clicking on them.

In the first we see Marianne and Willoughby at the pianoforte, in Chapter 10:

Willoughby, on his side, gave every proof of his pleasure in their acquaintance, which an evident wish of improving it could offer. He came to them every day. To inquire after Marianne was at first his excuse; but the encouragement of his reception, to which every day gave greater kindness, made such an excuse unnecessary before it had ceased to be possible by Marianne’s perfect recovery. She was confined for some days to the house: but never had any confinement been less irksome. Willoughby was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners. He was exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart; for, with all this, he joined not only a captivating person, but a natural ardour of mind, which was now roused and increased by the example of her own, and which recommended him to her affection beyond everything else.

His society became gradually her most exquisite enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted.

Chapter 10

These illustrations, early in the book, are quite clever, for they do not give any indication of any real impropriety by Willoughby. He is depicted as a handsome, fashionably dressed fellow, clearly devoted to Marianne and their joint pursuits.

The next illustration, from Chapter 12, might send alarm bells ringing faintly in the reader attuned to Jane Austen’s moral code. Willoughby takes a lock of Marianne’s hair, an intimate action, suggesting that their relationship at the very least was on the verge of becoming formalised by an engagement, or indeed, that such an  agreement had already been settled between them:

Margaret related something to her the next day, which placed this matter in a still clearer light. Willoughby had spent the preceding evening with them, and Margaret, being left some time in the parlour with only him and Marianne, had had opportunity for observations, which, with a most important face, she communicated to her eldest sister, when they were next by themselves.

“Oh! Elinor,” she cried, “I have such a secret to tell you about Marianne. I am sure she will be married to Mr. Willoughby very soon.”

“You have said so,” replied Elinor, “almost every day since they first met on High-church Down; and they had not known each other a week, I believe, before you were certain that Marianne wore his picture round her neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature of our great uncle.”

“But indeed this is quite another thing. I am sure they will be married very soon, for he has got a lock of her hair.”

“Take care, Margaret. It may be only the hair of some great uncle of his .”

“But indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne’s. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and mama went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissars and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper, and put it into his pocket-book.”

From such particulars, stated on such authority, Elinor could not withhold her credit: nor was she disposed to it, for the circumstance was in perfect unison with what she had heard and seen herself.

Chapter 12

And now the alarm bells are beginning to ring even louder with the third of our illustrations today from Chapter 13. Here we have Mrs Jennings happily relating to all and sundry the rather surprising news that Marianne toured Allenham with Willoughby (without having first been introduced to Mrs Smith, the owner), contradicting their story that their day had been spent riding about the lanes in the countryside, after the visit to Whitwell had been cancelled:

It was settled that there should be a dance in the evening, and that everybody should be extremely merry all day long. Some more of the Careys came to dinner, and they had the pleasure of sitting down nearly twenty to table, which Sir John observed with great contentment. Willoughby took his usual place between the two elder Miss Dashwoods. Mrs. Jennings sat on Elinor’s right hand; and they had not been long seated, before she leant behind her and Willoughby, and said to Marianne, loud enough for them both to hear, “I have found you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning.”

Marianne coloured, and replied very hastily, “Where, pray?” —

“Did not you know,” said Willoughby, “that we had been out in my curricle?”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determined to find out where you had been to. I hope you like your house, Miss Marianne. It is a very large one I know, and when I come to see you, I hope you will have new-furnished it, for it wanted it very much, when I was there six years ago.”

Marianne turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Jennings laughed heartily; and Elinor found that in her resolution to know where they had been, she had actually made her own woman enquire of Mr. Willoughby’s groom, and that she had by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham, and spent a considerable time there in walking about the garden and going all over the house.

Chapter 13

Again this is another rather clever illustration: Thomson shows us only the backs of the figures of Marianne and Willoughby, but shows the wicked glee with which Mrs Jennings relates her gossip, and the startled nature of Elinor’s reaction( she is shown sitting next to Mrs Jennings, if I interpret this scene correctly).

Everyone in their circle is now assuming what Mrs Jennings is actually articulating, that Marianne and Willoughby must be engaged or on the very point of being so attached, for their behaviour suggests it. The alarm bells are now ringing loud and clear to the attuned reader. And, as a result of their disrespectful and deceitful behaviour, it is evident that Elinor is hearing them loudly and clearly too…

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