You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2011.

The Bodleian Library has recently released a new free application for iPads and android phones etc. Treasures of the Bodleian is a fabulous application and it will take me many hours to explore all of it, as it highlights the treasures to be found in the University of Oxford’s library ‘s collection:

It contains access to many, many wonderful treasures, not the least being Jane Austen’s manuscripts of  Volume the First, which contains some of her juvenilia:

and The Watsons, which along with the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion, are her only surviving adult manuscripts, albeit this is unfinished.

There is also a wonderful five-minute long podcast type lecture by Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of Bibliography and Textural Criticism at the University of Oxford, wherein she talks about the history, significance and literary importance of the manuscript of The Watsons to us, and indeed, how this manuscript is really Jane Austen’s literary DNA:

Amongst other fascinating points, she details Jane Austen’s manner of working which is fascinating and is revealed by these precious few pages. And all this is free, I write, wonderingly. I could listen to Professor Sutherland’s intelligent and sympathetic lecture on Jane Austen for hours on end. As I say, ALL THIS IS FREE…

The application accompanies a physical exhibition of the treasures which is also free and which closes on the 23rd December 2011. Go here to see the website for the exhibition, You can also down load pdf of a guide to  the exhibit here. And you can also take part in a very interesting debate on what constitutes a “treasure” and vote for one item that is not normally on show, to  be “The People’s Choice” and  be part of the Library’s new Weston Library opening exhibit, when it opens in 2015.

If you can, please do download this wonderful application. AND IT IS FREE!!!

My goodness…another year has come and gone. Not only is this the day on which, 200 years ago, Sense and Sensibility was reputedly first published, but it is also the second anniversary of this site.

It has been fun year, I do hope you will agree. So many more of you have visited: in fact over twice as many as came here in the first year, and I’ve really loved meeting you all. The most popular posts this year have been a varied bunch. In the year of another, very different Royal Wedding, my post on Princess Charlotte’s Wedding was, and is still, popular; The Premiere of Mansfield Park:The Opera at Boughton House has attracted many many thousands of visitors, The Dress for Excess Exhibit at the Royal Pavillion series is still proving very popular, and, appropriately enough in this anniversary year, Hugh Thomson’s Illustrations for Sense and Sensibility have been among the posts that have generated most traffic.

My sincere thanks, as ever, are due to some lovely individuals who have encouraged and supported me in my endeavours this past year.. For all their kind words, I would like to extend my thanks to Katherine Cahill, Amanda Vickery, Louise West, Ronald Dunning, Karen Robarge, Jane Odiwe and Farah-Naz for all their encouragement and support. They do say that the second year of writing articles on a website is the hardest. I must admit that this year I’ve found that I have  had too much to write about, and some articles are being held over till next year in the schedule! Thank you for al your patience!

I should also like thank all of you who come and visit, and an especially warm thank you to all of you who take the trouble to comment. And now a confession. Prepare yourself to hear something very dreadful. I am appallingly bad at commenting on other websites. I mean to do it. Really, I do. Then my mind goes blank and I’m convinced others have already said what I’m proposing to say,or that what I’m going to say sounds banal. I never think this of the comments made here: obviously  you are all far more erudite than I ;) But as part of today’s celebration I’m going to encourage you to comment to this anniversary post. In two weeks time I will pick, by random number generator related to the number of your comment in the list, one of the authors of a comment to be the recipient of the following gifts:

A Sense and Sensibility celebratory calico bag from the Jane Austen’s House Museum, bought during my visit to them this week:

A set of four cards, depicting  scenes from Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice  and Sense and Sensibility designed  by the Scribes of Winchester Cathedral, where, of course, Jane Austen is buried:

A pack of cards printed with a design of a silhouette of Mr and Mrs Austen walking along the lane to church at Steventon, with all their children(save for poor George) in tow. These are only available to buy at St Nicholas’ Church, Steventon, where Jane Austen was baptised and worshipped, and where her father and brother, James, were rectors:

Because so many of you enjoyed the recent post I wrote about them and their designer, I’ve included a mint presentation pack of the 1975 Jane Austen commemorative stamps issued by the GPO:

The newly released Entertaining Miss Austen CD, which I will write about this forthcoming week:

A copy of Serena Dyer’s exquisite book on hats in Jane Austen’s era:

A set of postcards produced by the National Portrait Gallery in London on conjunction with The First Actresses Exhibition   (includes images of Mary Robinson and Sarah Siddons as well as Nell Gwynn!)

A copy of  The Pocket Posh Jane Austen Quiz Book…a small pocket- sized book of amusing Jane Austen related puzzles( A perfect stocking filler!)

A set of twenty postcard of my copies of Hugh Thomson and C.E. Brock’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility

There are two of each image in the set plus envelopes…

They also include this image by Ackermann, again from my collection, of Pynes, the house in Devon thought to be the inspiration for Barton Park:

And finally, because it wouldn’t be an Austenonly Giveaway without one, an early 19th century bone gaming fish as used by Lydia Bennet:

I ought to stress that this Giveaway is open to everyone, wherever in the world you are. If you take the trouble to comment,wherever you are, then I think you ought to have a chance to receive these items. It is only fair. So please, do comment and then  you will be automatically entered into the draw, which will take place in two weeks time on the 13th November.(Note I will not be replying to the comments  in order to make the draw that much simpler!)

And so… on to year three!  I have some rather special Jane Austen related news, to be released around the time of the anniversary of her birthday on 16th December, and  I hope it will prove to be very interesting to you all. I do hope you will continue to visit here , as it wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t!

Don’t forget to leave a comment, and Good Luck!

Yesterday an exhibition devoted to examining the life and works of the 18th century painter, Johan Zoffany, opened at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. Johan Zoffany R.A: Society Observed will run there until the 12th February 2012, and then it will transfer to London to the Royal Academy, where it will be on show from the 10th March until the 10th June 2012.

Mary Webster, who has made a very special study of the life and works of Zoffany has written an amazing book to accompany the exhibit, and this has also been published by Yale.


I can’t review the exhibit yet, but I can write about the book, as I’ve been reading it for the past couple of months. Zoffany was born in 1733 near Frankfurt am Maim. His family was associated with the local court and then moved to Regensburg. Zoffany received his art education in Rome, which he visited on two occasions and then became court painter to the elector of Trier. Below, is his self portrait:

After his marriage in 1760 he moved to London to try his luck as an artist. He set up a studio in Covent Garden, where he  came to the notice of the leading actor of the day, David Garrick. Other actors flocked to his studios to be immortalised in oils.The patronage of Garrick brought him to the attention of the powerful and the great, most notably The Earl of Bute who gave him many family commissions. The Earl was the young George III’s prime minister, and so it was probably through this link that Zoffany began to receive court commissions. It also helped that he spoke German as a first language,and he received many commissions and help from Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife, who was, of course, German.

His paintings of the royal family are very familiar- and so I will not comment on them here. What I found interesting, on reading the book, were his portraits of lesser known individuals, as below in his portrait of Charles Francois Dumergue, then London’s most fashionable dentist. Mr Dumergue, who was born in France , was Dentist to the Royal Family. The painting dates from 1780-81:

His official title was  Court Operator of the Teeth. He was also dentist to the Prince of Wales from 1785 until 1814. He was a great friend of Zoffany and their friendship lasted all their lives. He was also great friend with Matthew Boulton and James Watt the inventors and engineers, and also with Sir Walter Scott. This portrait by Zoffany, below, of Sophia Dunmergue , Mr Dumergue’s daughter, dates from the same period:

Zoffany’s great conversation pieces, painted in London, are also well-known and my favourite is of the Sharpe family:

Here they all are, on a musical water party sailing on the Thames near Fulham. The family is shown as the sort of people you would love to meet: talented, musical, interesting, fun. The family included Granville Sharp ,the lawyer : he is shown holding a sheet of music for his sister,Elizabeth Prowse, who is playing the fortepiano. You can see them in the centre of the picture. Granville Sharp was of course,the principal agent in fighting the very famous  case of James Somersett, the black slave, wihc was heard  before Lord Mansfield, and as Mary Webster remarks:

It was in this case that Mansfield in 1772 pronounced his famous verdict that Somersett must go free since no English law sanctioned slavery. Sharp consequently founded the Society for the Abolition of Slavery…

This is all very well, I hear you say, but is there any more to Zoffany to make him an object of interest to we Janeites? The answer is, yes. Empahtically, yes.  For,  in 1783 he travelled to India to paint there. Professional disappointments and a lack of commissions forced him to look elsewhere than England for work. And he looked to the world of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, shown below, in a portrait with his second wife, Marian,  and her Indian servant:

Warren Hastings gave Zoffany his enthusiastic patronage. And this is the interesting link, for Hastings had many associations with Jane Austen’s family. He had known Jane’s mother’s family, the Leighs of Adlestrop since childhood. He entrusted the care of his son from his first marriage to Mr and Mrs Austen, when they were first married and living at Deane in Hampshire. Seven year old George Hastings was the Reverend Austen’s first pupil, sent back to England from India to be educated. Sadly, he died while in their care, in 1764 of a “putrid throat”.His death affected Mrs Austen dreadfully. Mrs Austen had become so much attached to him that she always

declared that his death had been as great a grief to her as if he had been a child of her own

(Quoted in Jane Austen: A Family Record by Deirdre Le Faye, page 18)

Mr Austen’s sister, Philadelphia also knew Hastings. A poor but genteel woman, she travelled to India to find a husband in 1752 and married the elderly  Tysoe Hancock in 1753. Both she and her elderly husband were  close friends with him. He was godfather to their only daughter, Eliza, known to us all as the glamourous Countess de Feuillide, and then wife of Jane Austen’s brother, Henry . Sadly, hurtful gossip surrounded this group of friends:

The close friendship between Hastings and the Hancock’s coupled with the fact that the latter had been childless for so long before Betsey’s birth, gave scope for spiteful gossip to suggest that she was not Hancock’s daughter. The rumour was spread by the malicious Mrs Strachey, whose husband was secretary to Lord Clive and her slander was successful in so far as Clive wrote to his wife in the late summer of 1765: “In no circumstances whatever keep company with Mrs Hancock for it is beyond a doubt that she abandoned herself with Mr Hastings, indeed I would rather you had no acquaintance with the ladies who have been in India, they stand in such little esteem in England that their company cannot be of credit to Lady Clive”

(Le Faye, as above,  page 30)

Whatever the case regarding the parentage of Eliza, Zoffany’s works painted while he lived in India give us a rare glimpse into the strange world that Philadelphia Austen moved to in order to survive : and the world the the Crofts in Persuasion inhabited:

“What a great traveller you must have been, ma’am!” said Mrs. Musgrove to Mrs. Croft.

   “Pretty well, ma’am, in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”

Persuasion, Chapter 8

and the place where Colonel Brandon saw active service;

But can we wonder that with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her, (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies), she should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps — but I meant to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange. 

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31.

This is a fascinating portrait by Zoffany of the Blair family , painted in 1786-7. Colonel William Blair was originally of Balthayock in Perthshire, but ,when painted with his family, was then Colonel of the Bengal Army and commandant of the garrison of Chunar 20 miles above Benares.

This is another conversation piece of the Impey family dating from 17883. Sir Elijah Impey was a lawyer and judge. Note the Indian band in the background, and just how exhausted poor Mrs Impey looks in the heat.

The chapters dealing with Zoffany’s life and work in India are fascinating.Mary Webster’s exquisite research into the lives of the sitter and the servants provides us with a wonderful and detailed view of word of the English and servants of the East India company in India. I am throughly enjoying savouring this very new topic, espaillaly as it is something that seems to have held a stung hold on the young  Jane Austen’s imagination: she  wrote about life in India  in both her juvenilia and her adult works.

This book is worth  having for the joy of reading  these Indian chapters, but , as you can see from this cursory review, there is  much, much more to be enjoyed. Mary Wester’s prose is very readable and informative. She gives fascinating details of late 18th century life to answer the questions that natually arise when studying Zoffany’s works in detail. It’s a heavy tome, and very expensive at £75, but I can truly  recommend it to you

If you are lucky enough to  be in the Lakes this half term week, you have the opportunity to see an exhibition of some of the most interesting costumes from recent costume drama films.The Reghed Centre near Penrith in Cumbria is hosting the Dressing the Stars exhibit, of award-winning British film costumes. Included in the exhibition are costumes worn by some Jane Austen related stars. On show will be Colin Firth’s uniform which he wore as George VI in The King’s Speech , and the wedding dress and wedding suit worn by Keria Knightley and Ralph Fines in The Duchess, in which they portrayed the 5th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The most important news for us is that the wedding dress and uniform worn by Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet in Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility will also be on show, once again.

You will recall that I had the good luck to see these magnificent costumes last year at the Austen Attired exhibit of CostProp costumes from Austen adaptations at the National Trust’s magnificent Peckover House in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

I confess was stunned by the exquisite workmanship in the very detailed costume worn by Kate Winslet, as Marianne Dashwood:

This was made all the more astounding as the costume appeared only fleetingly on the screen. The embroidery and straw-work on the coat was simply sublime and the imagery evoked by the use of straw had previously been undetected by me.

Alam Rickman’s regimentals, worn s he portrayed Colonel Brandon, were also lovely-and I really coveted his citrine fob…A full account of the exhibit, and a detailed look at these costumes (and many others from other adaptations!) can found here.  The Dressing the Stars exhibition is in its last week of being open to the public: it ends on the 30th October, so I do hope that if you are in the area of the Reghed Centre you will take this opportunity to go and see these amazing costumes.

Today we visit the last of the rooms in George IV’s seaside folly, The Kings Private Apartments of the  Royal Pavilion at Brighton. His set of private apartments were originally to be found  on the first or Chamber floor, as we discovered in our last post in this series. However, as he aged, the King became rather fat and infirm.  Afflicted with gout, he found it increasingly difficult to negotiate climbing the stairs in the Gallery.  And so, in 1819 while he was still Prince Regent, he had John Nash create a new suite of rooms for him on the ground floor.

The rooms, which overlooked the gardens to the entrance front of the Pavilion, were a quiet retreat from the hubbub of the rest of the Pavilion, filled, as it was, with servants and guests. You can see the position of the rooms on this section of the ground floor plan of the Pavilion:

There are three rooms in the suite,  indicated by the three red arrows: The Kings Bedroom, his Private Library and Anteroom.

This is a photograph I took of the entrance front earlier this year,

and the King’s Apartments are to be found behind this screen, to the left of the porte-cochere:

This is a temporary screen while renovations to the stone work are being carried out.

The King’s Private Apartments are, stylistically, decorated in a  somewhat restrained manner, certainly when compared to the rest of the Pavilion. All three rooms are wallpapered in the same wallpaper,and this give the rooms a unifying feeling of peace and space. This is John Nash’s water-colour of the King’s Bedroom as it appeared in the 1820s (which can be enlarged if you care to click on it).

You can see the cooling and restful effect of the wallpaper. The design is still in the Chinoiserie style but it is more restrained .It conisits of pale pink dragons on a green ground. It was designed by Robert Jones. The bedroom still had enough luxuries to keep George IV in the style of which he had become accustomed: the desk is French and was once owned by Napoleon, England’s defeated adversary. There were three gib doors concealed in the walls of the room: one led from the fireplace wall to the Kings Bathroom, an innovation in the early 19th century to have possess a  room designated speifically for bathing. This room had a very large marble tub which was 16 feet long by 10 feet wide, and  which was filled with salt water taken from the sea and supplied to the  Pavilion by an ingenious series of pipes and pumping machinery. The two other gib doors led very different places. The first to the valet’s staircase and would have been used by the Princes’ valet. The other, more controversially, led to a small staircase which communicated directly with Lady Conynham’s apartments on the Chamber room floor, which were  directly above the King’s apartments. These of course, enabled the King’s mistress to visit him in privacy…I’m sure Jane Austen,who detested the Prince of Wales for his lax morals among other matters, would not have approved of this at all!

The Private Library and Anteroom lead from the King’s Bedroom: this is the view from the bedroom into the two other rooms:

Both these rooms were decorated with  a slightly different version of Robert Jones’ dragon damask wallpaper- it has a different border design across the top of the paper, as you can see from Nash’s watercolour,below, especially if you click on it and enlarge it:

You can see the pattern of the wallpaper more clearly in this picture below (and also see the delicate detail of the fan-vaulted columns):

My favourite aspect of these rooms are the beautiful sky ceilings…At this point in the early nineteenth century, libraries were used as the main living rooms in the homes of the rich. As Humphrey Repton noted  in 1816, The modern custom is to use the library as the general living-room. George IV inherited his father’s love of books. He gave most of his father’s scientific and topographical books to the British Museum,but he collected, instead, many many thousands of volumes of literature. I wonder if his set of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, which she reluctantly dedicated to him, were kept in this room?

The rooms had another unifying feature: nearly all the ornaments displayed in the rooms have a colour scheme of black and gold.

My poor picture, above, shows a wall light in carved, ebonised and gilt wood, which was  designed by that most influential arbiter of Regency taste in interior design, Thomas Hope (more on him next year!). The wall lamp dates from 1807. Here is a more detailed picture of it:

A similar design  was in fact included in his influential book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration,which was first published in 1807. Here is the frontispiece of that book, below:

And here is his design for a Drawing-Room, again, taken from my copy of that book:

You can clearly see the wall lights, which are very similar in style to those in the King’s apartments. Here is a close up for you to compare:

And that ends our tour of the Pavilion..or nearly so. The  Prince Regent Gallery is a new room in the Pavillion: an exhibition space where objects related to the King can be displayed to the public. My next two posts will deal with the current display; the first with details of  some of George IV’s fascinating clothes, the second will detail some items of clothing associated with his coronation, which have not been seen in public for many, many years. Do join me.

Today, the 21st October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.  This decisive sea battle between the French (and their allies the Spanish) and English fleets took place  in 1805. Jane Austen lived through this perilous period, and makes one  direct reference  to this battle in Persuasion. It is in Chapter 3 when Anne Elliot, while helping Mr Shepherd explain who is destined to be Sir Walter Elliot’s  tenant, also reveals to us her keen interest in the fortunes of all the members of her beloved Frederick Wentworth’s family:

“And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry.

   Mr. Shepherd answered for his being of a gentleman’s family, and mentioned a place; and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added —

   “He is rear admiral of the white. He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he has been stationed there, I believe, several years.”

Chapter 3

Jane Austen, of course, was vitally interested in the fortunes of Nelson’s navy, not only as a patriotic Englishwoman, but because her brothers Frank and Charles were naval officers. Frank, below, served directly under Nelson as one of his captains. Indeed, Nelson wrote admiringly of him:

I hope to see [Captain Austen] alongside a French 80-gun ship, and he cannot be better placed than in the ‘Canopus’,  which was once a French Admiral’s ship, and stuck to me. Captain Austen I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man.

(quoted in Jane Austen: A Family Record by DeirdreLe Faye, page 151)

For most of  1805 Frank was involved in chasing the French fleet and its commander, Admiral Villeneuve, across the Atlantic to the West Indies and then back again to the entrance of the Mediterranean  near the Straits of Gibraltar. Below is a scan of my copy of Kelly’s map of Spain and Portugal dating from 1816, which you can enlarge to see  the detail:

This is a section of it showing the position of Cadiz and the Straits of Gibraltar:

Villeneuve and his fleet were kept blockaded in Cadiz by the British during the whole month of September. Nelson arrived on The Victory on September 28th and then Frank was ordered to Gibraltar to “complete supplies”, and then on to Cartagena to help protect a convoy which was en route to Malta, further into the Mediterranean to the east.  As a result, he missed the action at Trafalgar, a circumstance he had feared might occur, as is revealed in this later to the woman who was his fiancée and future wife , Mary Gibson. Note this letter was actually written on the day of the battle:

Our situation is peculiarly unpleasant and distressing, for if they escape Lord Nelson’s vigilance and get into the Mediterranean, which is not very likely, we shall be obliged, with our small force, to keep out of their way; and on the other hand, should an action take place, it must be decided long before we could possibly get down even were the wind fair, which at present it is not. As I have no doubt but the event would be highly honourable to our arms, and be at the same time productive of some good prizes, I shall have to lament our absence on such an occasion on a double account, the loss of pecuniary advantage as well as of professional credit. And after having been so many months in a state of constant and unremitting fag, to be at last cut out by a parcel of folk just come from their homes, where some of them were sitting at their ease the greater part of last war, and the whole of this, till just now, is particularly hard and annoying.

“You, perhaps, may not feel this so forcibly as I do, and in your satisfaction at my having avoided the danger of battle may not much regret my losing the credit of having contributed to gain a victory; not so myself!

“I do not profess to like fighting for its own sake, but if there have been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious one of my life.

And so it was: Frank missed the action, the decisive sea battle victory over the French, and regretted it bitterly, as he told Mary  in his next letter to her , dated 27th October, a letter which was first published in Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J.H. and E .C. Hubback:

Alas! my dearest Mary, all my fears are but too fully justified. The fleets have met, and, after a very severe contest, a most decisive victory has been gained by the English twenty-seven over the enemy’s thirty-three. Seventeen of the ships are taken and one is burnt; but I am truly sorry to add that this splendid affair has cost us many lives, and amongst them the most invaluable one to the nation, that of our gallant, and ever-to-be-regreted, Commander-in-Chief, Lord Nelson, who was mortally wounded by a musket shot, and only lived long enough to know his fleet successful. 

And that was the rub, the bitter in so much sweet. Nelson died as a result of injuries sustained in the battle. Frank Austen paid tribute to him in the same letter:

In a public point of view, I consider his loss as the greatest which could have occurred; nor do I hesitate to say there is not an Admiral on the list so eminently calculated for the command of a fleet as he was. I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a man. To the soundest judgment he united prompt decision and speedy execution of his plans; and he possessed in a superior degree the happy talent of making every class of persons pleased with their situation and eager to exert themselves in forwarding the public service. As a national benefit I cannot but rejoice that our arms have been once again successful, but at the same time I cannot help feeling how very unfortunate we have been to be away at such a moment, and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though unavoidable events, to lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience; but, as I cannot write upon that subject without complaining, I will drop it for the present, till time and reflection reconcile me a little more to what I know is now inevitable.

Nelson’s body was returned to England, and lay in state at Greenwich. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, with all the pomp of a state funeral. This is a picture of his tomb in the crypt :

Today in Britain, Trafalgar Day is not celebrated as a public holiday as it was during the mid 19th century, though recently politicians have tried to revive the idea that  the Monday nearest the date be reinstated as a bank holiday. But the Sea Cadets do celebrate it on theSunday nearest the 21st October.  Members of the Sea Cadets all over the country parade in towns to celebrate the great sea victory still .In London 500 sea cadets parade in Trafalgar Square under the beady eye of Nelson’s statue on his column in the square. This square, and its commemorative column did not, of course, exist in Jane Austen’s day. But I daresay her sentiments regarding the battle, especially knowing that Frank escaped injury, may have been similar to how she expressed her feelings on hearing of deaths in battles in the Peninsular War

How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!

(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 31st May 1811)

For Jane Austen hats were important items of clothing. She took great delight in wearing and purchasing them, as this arch extract from her letter to her sister, Cassandra dated 18th April 1811 clearly demonstrates:

Miss Burton has made me a very pretty title Bonnet- & now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding hat shape, like Mrs Tilson’s; & a young woman in this Neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking; but it will not be dear at a Guinea.

The admirable new Subject Index to the Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters has copious entries for mentions of bonnets, caps, hats and veils. Understanding the differences between the type of hat Jane Austen and her characters would have worn, how and where she would have bought such hats, for herself or on commission, has recently been addressed in a new book written by Serena Dyer of Dressing History.

This is a slim but well written-volume packed full of fascinating early 19th century hat facts and information. Do you know the difference between a Calash or a Capote? You will after reading this very informative book. The book is illustrated with black and white renditions of period fashion plates and very clear, helpful line drawing by Christine Dyer. Here is a Gypsy Hat such as may have been worn by the odious Mrs Elton on the day of the Strawberry Picking Party at Donwell Abbey:

I love Lunardi bonnets but was not aware that this style of hat was named after Vincenzi Lunardi after he made the first hydrogen balloon flight in England. Fascinating.

Serena also gives a short account of  Milliners and how their trade was carried out in the early 19th century. An interesting snippet she includes in their section is that many ladies paid to learn how to trim their own bonnets: a Miss Elizabeth Woodhouse ( no relation I’m sure)

who would become the wife of a Yorkshire vicar,paid her milliner, Miss Volans, ten pounds to instruct her in the art

This small book is very reasonably priced at £5.00 and is available direct from Serena herself, go here to buy it. Serena,who is now studying at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at York University,  is an accomplished milliner herself and trims a mean bonnet. You can buy some of her examples from her shop, go here to see. This is one of her confections, a straw poke bonnet:

Hard to resist isn’t it?

The National Portrait Gallery in London’s new exhibit,  The First Actresses  opens tomorrow and runs until the 8th January 2012. I hope I will be going to see it soon. I will ,of course, then let you know my impressions of it( you would be hard pressed to restrain me!). But today I thought you might like to read about the book that accompanies the exhibition, and you might consider purchasing it, especially if you cannot visit the exhibit in London in person.

The exhibition seeks to examine how these first actresses were portrayed, not only in the large-scale portrait but in caricatures, in prints  and on such diverse goods as china figures and tin glazed tiles, and how perceptions of  their reputations changed as a result. The book contains interesting essays on the lives of these early actresses. Of course, it has to be remembered that it was only after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II (my hero!) in 1660 that women were allowed to become professional actress and appear on the stage. The way in which their reputations, good or ill, have been portrayed by artists is certainly an intriguing subject to examine in detail.  Many actresses were associated with lax morals and, indeed, outright prostitution. During Jane Austen’s era Sarah Siddons sought to establish a more serious, responsible and respectable persona for the female branch of the profession. But, of course, she shared the stage with actresses like Mary Robinson, shown above on the cover of the book, who was The Prince of Wales’ mistress, and  Dorothea Jordan, shown below in a portrait by  John Russell dating from 1801. She was famous for her marvellous pair of legs, revealed to the adoring public in “breeches roles” where cross dressing was allowed, even encouraged. She was also the long term mistress of the Duke of Clarence, the Prince of Wales’ brother, who pretty swiftly disposed of her servicesin the race to produce a legitimate hero to the throne after the death of George IV’s only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte in  November 1817, but only after she had bourne him ten children and supported him financially.

The great serious portrait , executed by an aspiring or famous artist and exhibited in public was one way in which actresses sought to convince the public that they were to be taken seriously. John Hoppner’s portrait of Mrs Jordan as the Comic Muse, below,  failed miserably in this regard as the attitude in which she was painted  was thought to be  too salacious and  many hostile reviews resulted. The great portrait was, for both parties involved, a two-way street. If it worked, not only did the actress enhance her reputation but  the artist gained fame and possibly more commissions as a result of portraying a celebrity successfully. Plus ca change….

The book contains potted biographies of the sitters included in the exhibition. The portrait of Mrs Inchblad, below, attributed to John Hoppner, is new to me and I think it is fabulous. She was, of course, not only an author in her own right but was also  the translator of Kotzebue’s play, Lover’s Vows, which Jane Austen used to spectacular and revealing dramatic effect in the Private Theatricals episode in  Mansfield Park.

 The Chapter entitled Star Systems Then and Now written by Gill Perry is perhaps my favourite section of the book. As well as considering actresses now and how they are portrayed by artists and photographers,  Gill Perry examines how non-professionals who took part in The Itch for Acting– private theatricals – an itch which infected the society in which Jane Austen lived, were portrayed by artists and the media of the day.

The painting by Daniel Gardner of The Three Witches from Macbeth, shows Elizabeth, Vicountess Melbourne, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and Anne Seymour Damer, as they appeared at the Richmond House private theatricals which were hosted by the Duke of Richmond at his London home in a specially built theatre, and where its aristocratic cast were coached by the professional actress Elizabeth Farren. She went on to marry one of them, the Earl of Derby.

Jane Austen  loved the theatre and was an acute critic of performances she attended in London and in Southampton.She would have enjoyed this book tremendously I’m sure, casting her critical eye over the many portraits, making caustic comments on them no doubt.

You ought to know that the NPG is currently offering the book at a reduced price currently: here is a link to the website should you wish to buy it from them directly, and take advantage of this offer. If you are interested in the theatre of Jane Austen’s era, then I am sure you will want to do so.

There are quite a few examples of talented female artists in Jane Austen’s novels. Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is portrayed as a girl who could both play instruments and execute good paintings and drawings:

The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.

Chapter 43

And in Sense and Sensiblity it is Elinor who is the artist. Marianne plays the piano with passion, but the more emotionally restrained Elinor paints. Her drawings decorate the walls of the sitting room at Barton Cottage, and she, very kindly given all the circumstances, painted some screens for her dreadful sister-in-law,Fanny, which were nastily dismissed by the equally foul Mrs Ferrars:

 Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing room; and these screens, catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel Brandon for his admiration.

   “These are done by my eldest sister,” said he; “and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well.”

   The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood; and the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor’s work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received the gratifying testimony of Lady Middleton’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her at the same time, that they were done by Miss Dashwood.

   “Hum” — said Mrs. Ferrars — “very pretty,” — and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.

Chapter 34

So…the question naturally arises, what might these painting, by these accomplished ladies, have looked like? We have some examples that have survived from the early 19th century before us to examine. First, Diana Spurling’s quirky watercolours of life with her family in Regency Essex, as collected in the book, Mrs Hurst Dancing. Here we see her mother, Mrs Spurling and her accomplice , the maid,  murdering flies:

And we have the evidence of  a talented child’s efforts in the book,  A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House, which contains the work of Mary Yelloly. She documented the lives of the members of her fictional family, the Grenvilles. Mary painted these interesting watercolours from the age  of eight to 11 years. Astonishing.

But there were more technically gifted examples, and I do like to think that both Elinor and Georgiana were artists of the more professionally accomplished kind. Certainly Georgiana would  have and the opportunity of being instructed by the best masters while living in Town. her brother would no doubt have seen to that. And possibly this would have been the situation with Elinor, until the Dashwood’s wealthy life style ended with the death of their father. Some examples of the best possible watercolours executed by accomplished ladies is currently on show at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is a small but exquisite display of botanical watercolours by Pierre-Joseph Redoute and his pupils, the kind of small but perfectly formed event that Fitzwilliam excels at producing on a regular basis.

©Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge

Redoute is of course well-known for his watercolours of roses and lilies, commissioned by the Empress Josephine, and it is interesting to note that he was also patronised by Queen Marie Antoinette prior to the Revolution. His works  have become almost ubiquitous, and his Rosa Mundi rose, seen below, has been used on countless greetings cards and framed on many a bed and breakfast/hotel wall. As a result it is very easy to no longer “see” them as the exquisite works of art they are. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

However , the opportunity to rediscover these paintings by Redoute redresses this jaded view: his works on display in this exhibit are simply breath-taking. The skill on display is astounding. But I was most  intrigued to discover that, in addition to producing such beautiful watercolours, he also ran a school of painting in Paris. In 1822 he became Paintre du Roi, and began teaching members of the d’Orleans family as well as other students from Paris and from overseas. His school was based in the sale de Buffon in the Jardin des Plantes, and you can see him teaching, standing in the centre of the illustration  below:

©Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge

Note the overwhelming number of women students…Some were members of the Royal family or were aristocrats. This watercolour of a bunch of summer flowers is an example of the work of Eugenie-Adelaide-Louise d’Orleans, the sister of King Louis-Phillipe:

©Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge

But some students were more ordinary souls. This delicate watercolour of camellias was executed by one Sarah Bray:

©Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge

Sarah was an Englishwoman. Born in Sunderland she exhibited watercolors of flowers at the Royal Academy in 1821, but by 1835 she was the headmistress of a boarding school at Chaillot where she died in 1842.

If you can get to this exhibit, which closes on October 30th, then do. Entrance to it and the rest of the museum is free. A small but exquisite catalogue of the exhibits, with fascinating biographical details of the artists is available from the museum’s shop.  I would have happily paid to see these rare and exquisite examples of the work of amateur men and more importantly, women from nearly all classes who were painting, like Elinor Dashwood and Georgiana Darcy, in the early 19th century. It was  a rare opportunity to discover exactly what sort of work they may have been capable of producing.

This hefty volume arrived with the morning post, and I have spent the past  few absorbing hours comparing and contrasting it with my copy of the Third Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters (1995), also edited by Deirdre Le Faye and similarly published by the Oxford University Press. I cannot, understandably, give a full, detailed and considered review of the at this point, but want to share with you my first impressions of it (pun entirely intended), for I’m so pleased to find certain additions to the book.

The first item of note is a new preface written by the editor, shown above,  wherein she details the history of the publication of the letters. She also makes the point that the letters between the sisters, Jane and Cassandra Austen, are like long telephone calls. I think they might better be described today as comparable to a series of emails. I often wonder how Jane Austen would have adapted to use of the internet and computers: I feel that she would have loved the ease with which her manuscripts could have been saved and edited via word-processing, and I’m sure she would have been an avid emailer and texter. Back to the letters…what has captivated me, and has long been needed, desired and hoped for, is the wonderful new subject index. No longer will we have to try to cudgel our brains and try to remember in what year and in which letter Jane Austen mentioned orange wine, for simply by looking that subject up in the index we will find that it is in fact mentioned by her in Letter 55, written to Cassandra Austen on the 30th June, 1808, while Jane Austen was staying at her brother Edward’s home, Godmersham Park and that she mentioned Seville orange wine in her letter to her great friend, Alethea Bigg, dated 24th January 1817. All this is a boon.

No new letters have surfaced to be added to the number published in the Third Edition, but new explanatory notes have been added to some of the letters and to the Topographical and Biographical indices, making primary references to the excellent scholarship of members of the Jane Austen Society.

This is one book I can never be without. It would have to accompany me on my desert island. For while I can remember with pleasure many passages from The Six, the letters are so detailed they are hard to commit to memory. Dipping into them and studying them has been one of my greatest delights these past 30 years. This new edition is worth every penny of its price of £25 and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen’s work or of the period in time when she lived, without reservation or hesitation.

As this 200th anniversary year of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility draws to a close my conscience has got the better of me and I thought I ought offer to you some  more detailed articles about points of the novel that interest me, for as you know this is my least favourite of all the novels and I do tend to drag my feet about it all. I apologise.

Today, I thought we might take a look at the discussion between Edward Ferrars and Marianne Dashwood in Chapter 18, and discuss what it reveals about them and their creator’s views on blasted trees and other things Picturesque….


In Chapter 18 of Sense and Sensibility,we are given an acute illustration of Marianne Dashwood and Edward Ferrars differing personalities by their reaction to the landscape around them. Jane Austen was said to be an admirer of William Gilpin and his writings on the “picturesque”, which I have written about before in this post here. In Chapter 18 we get something of her views, I think, on both Gilpin, his followers and on beauty in landscape.

Edward Ferrers, professional, practical and not at all romantic especially in Marianne’s use of the word, professes to see the landscape in practical terms only and almost chides Marianne for her far more poetic approach:

 Edward returned to them with fresh admiration of the surrounding country; in his walk to the village, he had seen many parts of the valley to advantage; and the village itself, in a much higher situation than the cottage, afforded a general view of the whole, which had exceedingly pleased him. This was a subject which ensured Marianne’s attention, and she was beginning to describe her own admiration of these scenes, and to question him more minutely on the objects that had particularly struck him, when Edward interrupted her by saying, “You must not inquire too far, Marianne — remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste, if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold! surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country — the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug — with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility — and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque.”

Interestingly, while Elinor Dashwood gently berates Edward for his boast of knowing nothing of the picturesque ( which in fact is not quite true, for  in the speech in the quoted paragraph from Chapter 18, above, Edward demonstrates very clearly that he  is perfectly aware of the language used by admirers of William Gilpin’s books: rather than knowing nothing about the picturesque, he seems to have read all about it ,thought about it and then rejected its tenets). Marianne, while despairing of Edward’s view, takes agin those who, unlike her, know nothing of real beauty in the landscape, but merely parrot Gilpin’s jargon, without thinking for themselves about the merits of their surroundings:

“It is very true,” said Marianne, “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.”

In the end the debate between them is really about the poetic versus the practical:

“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”

William Gilpin wrote a book specifically about the beauty( or lack of it) to be found in trees, and it is very probable from the language used in this passage to suppose that Jane Austen read it and was referring to it here. In his Remarks on Forest Scenery , first published in 1791, he set out his principles of the picturesque as applied to the trees, hedges, copses and forests he knew. He did, of course, live for a long time in the New Forest in Hampshire and was basing his writings on years of observations. Born in the north, in the Lakes , an area then devoid of the plantations since made by individuals such as Thomas Storey and organisations such as the Forestry Commission, he moved south to Cheam in Surrey and then in 1777 Gilpin left Cheam to become vicar of Boldre in the New Forest in Hampshire. As he explains in the preface to his book:

The subject( of forest scenery-jfw) was new to me. I had been much among lakes and mountains; but I had never lived in a forest. I know little of it’s scenery. Every thing caught my attention; and as I generally had a memorandum book in my hand I made minutes of what I observed; throwing my remarks under the two heads of forest scenery in general and the scenery of particular places. Thus as small things led to greater, an evening walk or ride became to foundations of a volume…

So exactly what, for Gilpin, constituted a picturesque tree? He absolutely hated any manner of interference by man in the shaping of trees: for him only natural forms could be truly picturesque :

All forms that are unnatural displease.A tree lopped into a may pole, as you generally see in the hedgerows of Surry (sic) and some other countries is disgusting. Clipped yews,lime hedges and pollards for the same reason are disagreeable: and yet I have sometimes seen a pollard produce a good effect, when nature has been suffered for some years to bring it again into form; but I never saw a good effect produced by a pollard on which some single stem was left to grow into a tree. The stem is of a different growth: it is disproportioned;and always unites awkwardly with the trunk…

Above is the illustration of A Pollard on which a single stem has been left to grow into a tree.

He considered that a picturesque tree was one that possessed the following characteristics:

Lightness also is a characteristic of beauty in a tree : for though there are beautiful trees of a heavy as well as of a light form; yet their extremity must in some parts be separated and hang with a degree of looseness from the fulness of the foliage which occupies the middle of the tree, or the whole will only be a large bush…

A tree also had to be well balanced:

It may have form and it may have lightness ; and yet lose all its effect, by wanting a proper poise. The bole must appear to support the branches.We do not wish to see it supporting its burden with the perpendicular formless of a column. An easy sweep is always agreeable; but at the same time it should not be such a sweep as discovers one side plainly overbalanced

This is the illustration of an unbalanced tree bending over a road

To sum up:

Without these requisites therefore form,lightness and a proper glance no tree can have that species of beauty which we call picturesque.

However, Gilpin considered that trees growing wild often had “defects” caused by wind and weather and  these “injuries” added to their beauty:

What is more beautiful for instance on a rugged foreground, than an old tree with a hollow trunk ? Or with a dead arm,  a drooping bough or a dying branch? All which phrases I apprehend are nearly synonymous…

He was especially approving of the blasted tree (a phrase used by Edward Ferrars, note):

The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye and ideas of wildness and desolation are required what  more suitable accompaniment can be imagined than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed and leafless: shooting its peeled white branches athwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm?

It is interesting that in the debate with Edward, Marianne talks of Gilpin in these terms:

Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was.

She is clearly an admirer. It is those who pretend to understand him she despises. But did Jane Austen agree with her?I think she may have been poking fun at her creation, who at this point in the novel is unable to appreciate any other view than her own on almost any topic. On loving only once, on preferring the beauty of a blasted tree as opposed to a well-grown straight and  productive piece of timber that would be worth money. Jane Austen was clearly a practical woman, who took great interest in the running of her brother Edward’s estate at Chawton. She, like Edward Ferrers, knew the value of well grown timber. I think she could  poke fun not only at Gilpin but  at his followers, who like Marianne, thought that only they knew true picturesque beauty when they saw it ,as opposed to other, less perceptive souls who while they thought they were following Gilpin’s dictates, were merely spouting jargon.

Despite having been described by her brother Henry in his Biographical Notice of her as being “enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque” and as seldom changing her opinions either on books or men, I think her admiration of Gilpin was not particularly slavish. I often wonder if Jane Austen’s admiration was tongue in cheek. I cannot but see her reacting against his rather overblown sentiments and forcefully stated opinions. Like Marianne he is quite dogmatic and really does not allow for differing opinions. Luckily for Marianne, her harsh life experiences mean that she eventually becomes more reasonable. We know that she changes her mind with regard to the important matter  of second attachments, and I wonder if this maturing affected her view on the value of straight, productive trees ;)

In our last post in this series,we travelled up the stairs in the Gallery. This week we discover where those wonderfully pink stairs and their faked bamboo stair rail led…to the Gallery on the Chamber floor.  Below is John Nash’s view of the Gallery, painted circa 1816 (do remember you can enlarge all the photographs in these articles by clicking on them)

I love the way George IV is included in many of these watercolours, just to reinforce the impression that the place really was his…you can see him ascending the stairs with a lady upon his arm…the question of the moment being, of course, which lady? We can be certain  it was certainly not his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, whose part Jane Austen took. As she wrote in a letter to her friend, Martha Lloyd,  which was dated 16th February, 1813:

Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband

The gallery is a central corridor, similar to the gallery on the ground floor. Doors lead from it to the different main bedrooms in the Pavilion,with the exception of the King’s Apartments, with which we will deal in our next post ;)

The gallery is lit by skylights, again painted in the oriental fashion by artists employed by Frederick Crace, the famed Regency designer. The bamboo pattern on the walls is created by pasting strips of printed paper onto the painted blue background, to give the effect of begin in a bamboo walled room set in the sky.  This airy  space was used not only for access to the bedrooms, but also as a place where breakfast was taken by the guests staying in the Pavilion. Madame de Boigne ,the daughter of the French ambassador wrote, while staying at the Pavillion in the 1820s that she was

much astonished when I came out of my room to find the table upon the staircase landing. But what a landing and what a staircase! The carpets, the tables, the chairs, the porcelain, the china as exquisite as luxury and good taste could find.

Books, newspapers and excellent fires were also provided. I think it must have been quite a delightful space  in which to breakfast. I have to point out to you one of my favourite aspects of the chamber floor : the recreated Brussels weave carpet, which covers the Gallery floor and is also in some of the bedrooms.

It has the most delightful floral pattern, and looks startlingly modern.  The original would most probably have been made in Axminster in Devon, by Thomas Whitty who began making his famed Axminster method carpets there in 1755. He made the other carpets in the Pavilion and had first come to the Princes of Wales attention when he was commissioned to made carpets for the Prince at Carlton House. For example, he made the carpets that graced the Throne Room, below:

He was also patronised by  George III and Queen Charlotte and also by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth.

I do wonder what time the guests and the King would rise and exit from their bedrooms, however, if we consider they would have spent the previous night eating in the Banqueting Room and after enjoying after dinner entertainment in the Music room…I am convinced it would not be particularly early…

In one of the bed chambers, the last of the costumes in the Dress for Excess Exhibition are displayed. This was in fact the suite of rooms that the Prince Regent occupied until 1821,when he moved into a new suite  of private apartments in the north-west wing of the Pavilion. We will look at them in our next post.

I again apologize for the darkness of the these photographs. But I hope you can see enough detail to satisfy yourselves. The three dresses on show are interesting because they delineate the history of the rise and fall of the waistline on females dresses during the Prince’s life time.

The cream dress on the left dates from the early 1800s, and its waist is elevated, to lie under the line of the bust.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

In this much clearer photograph, which I have been given special permission to use by the Brighton Museum service, you can see the detail of the fabric, which is embroidered by tambour work. This  was made on a taut, drum-like frame, hence  the term “tambour”. This is the type of work Mrs Grant was undertaking at the Rectory at Mansfield in Chapter 7 of Mansfield Park.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

The dress in the middle of the trio, shown below, dates from circa 1825.

You can see that by this date the waist is moving back down towards the natural waistline, but in this case the corsetry involved is far more restrictive than in the early 1800s and a small waist is now becoming the more fashionable shape to attain.

The last dress on show dates from the mid 1780s to 1790s. The waist is beginning to rise from the natural line of the was it but it is not as high as the example of the 1800s dress. Do note the dark printed patterned fabric: not everyone wore white all the time!

Next in this series, we go back downstairs to the Kings Apartments on the Ground Floor of the Pavillion.

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

So wrote Jane Austen from her rich brother’s home, Godmersham Park in Kent, in a letter to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808.

Ice creams, iced drinks and iced displays were only available to the wealthy and well to do in Jane Austen’s era. As Ivan Day writes in the book under review here today:

When ice cream first appeared in Britain in the seventeenth century, it was a luxury enjoyed solely by the inhabitants of royal palaces and noble households. For two hundred years it  remained an upper-class treat…

Ices could only be made on estates that possessed the luxury of an ice house- a place where,  in the cold winter months, ice from lakes was stored to use throughout the year to make cold drink, puddings ( ice creams and iced waters) and decorative iced table-pieces.

There, deep  under the earth, the ice- the Harvest of the Winter Months- as Elizabeth David termed it, was stored throughout the year until it had all gone, usually in late summer. Note the lake/pond ice itself was not eaten, as that would have been disgusting. It was used, usually with the addition of salt, to make other things freeze and chill.

From the mid 18th century ices also could be bought- at a price- from smart confectioners in the larger towns in England, such as the famed Gunther’s in Berkeley Square..

It is really no wonder then that Jane Austen relished the ease and elegance and luxury of her brother’s home, drinking French wine( not their usual home-bred effort ) and eating those rare ices. Something she would not normally have had access to in her little village in Hampshire.

Today’s book under review is a concise but very well written history of the ice cream in Britain. Ivan Day, the author, is, as you know, one of the foremost food historians in England. I have been lucky enough to attend some of his food courses and have been spellbound each time we have made ice cream in the Georgian manner, without the need for any modern refrigerators.

Here we have my photograph of some strawberry ice cream we were making in the 18th century way, in Gunther’s own pillar mould, set to freeze in a mixture of ice and salt, within a wooden pail.

This book, published by Shire, is fascinating. It covers, of course, periods both before and after the Georgian era, but has enough material to interest us, and for its price( £6.99) is amazingly good value. The chapters on ice houses and how the ice was gathered and stored are clear and concise. The chapter on Georgian ices is fascinating, the range of flavours on offer makes today’s ice cream manufactures offerings seem tame.

Above in an illustration from the book, is Frederick Nutt’s handwritten list of ice cream varieties dating from 1780. They include sweet ices; Burnt Ice Cream(  flavoured with caramel), Burnt Almond, and Damson, together with savoury flavours, for example, Parmesan Cheese.

Ivan gives copious amounts of information as to how these ices were made, served at tale and consumed. The history of the development of ice cream recipes is entertainingly written, tracing the developments from the first known English recipe, written by Lady Anne Fanshawe who lived from 1625-1680. Ivan has an immense collection of original recipe books from this era until the turn of the last century, and plunders them in this small book to provide vivid illustrations as to how these early ices were made. The book is well and appropriately illustrated and the examples of ices made by Ivan, from his truly astounding collection of ice cream moulds, are simply breathtaking:

A nice touch is the addition to the book of recipes taken from Frederick Nutt’s list, above, all adapted for use in modern ice cream makers. I can thoroughly recommend this detailed and well written overview of the history of creating and eating ice cream and I am sure that you will enjoy it.

I have been gratified and amazed at the response to my article last week about the 1975 Commemorative Issue Jane Austen Stamps, issued by the Royal Mail. You see, they are very familiar things to me and I hesitated to write about them, thinking they would be “old news” but your emails and responses to the post suggest that they are quite the opposite.

One of my email correspondents wanted to know more about the illustrator, Barbara Brown, and I am happy to oblige, though the information I have about her is limited. However ,I do have some more Jane Austen inspired illustrations by her which I thought you might also like to see.

Barbara Brown was born in Surrey, and lived and works in London.  She attended Hornsey College of Arts and Crafts, and then  the Royal College of Art where she studied graphic design and book illustration.

She was well-known as an illustrator of children books and also undertook designs for Halcyon Days enamels under the stewardship of Susan Benjamin. In 1970 Halcyon Days revised the art of enamelling these delightful “toys”  -mostly small boxes for comfits or snuff. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries these boxes  had been made at Bilston in the West Midlands or in Battersea. Mrs Benjamin had been an antiques dealer specialising in collecting and selling these boxes for some years,selling her wares form her delightful shop in Mayfair. She decided to revive the art,due to demand for the items, commissioning many special pieces from favoured artists. Here is one of Barbara Brown’s designs for her, which illustrated the children’s nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons.

I have collected these boxes for nearly 30 years now, and prize some of Barbara Brown’s designs amongst my favourites. Here are two of her egg designs, the first a reinterpretation of an 18th century favourite: a box with the sentimental  motto

When this you see, Remember me

and this, another egg, decorated with her versions of Bewick’s Birds illustrations…

…her inspiration for the wren and the robin taken from his woodcuts in his History of British Birds, a book so beloved of Charlotte Bronte and her creation, Jane Eyre.

Barbara’s illustrations for the Jane Austen commemorative set of stamps are lovely and include tiny period details. My favourite is Catherine Moreland from Northanger Abbey, carrying her  horrid book by her Gothic screen….

The card insert for the presentation set of mint stamps has more of Barbara’s illustrations(as well as a cogent and good general view of Jane Austen’s life, works and reputation written by Alan Martin Harvey with none of the mistakes  that are to be found in his card accompanying the First Day Covers of the stamps.)

They show Jane Austen, Barbara’s version of the famous sketch by Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, (the original is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London )…

and Jane Austen’s House at Chawton, now the Jane Austen House Museum.

The card also includes scenes from the novels:  from Pride and Prejudice we are shown the moment where  Mrs Bennet scandalised by Lizzy’s refusal of Mr Collins disturbs Mr Bennet in the library

From Mansfield Park we are given The start of the journey from Mansfield to Southerton: Lady Bertram and Mrs Grant seeing off Henry Crawford’s coach party 

We are also given one of Barbara’s illustrations for one of the novels that was not included in the set of stamps, Persuasion.

Henrietta Musgrove and Anne Elliot walking on the shore at Lyme

But Sense and Sensibility was not included at all, and no illustrations from it appear. How puzzling.

Barbara Brown died in 2005. I would have loved to had seen her illustrate a whole edition of Jane Austen’s works, for I like her illustrations. And I’m so pleased to find that some of you do so too. Because of the response to these posts I’ve decided to add a spare set of these stamps, complete with card insert illustrated by Barbara Brown, in the forthcoming Austenonly 2nd Anniversary Giveaway, which, incredible as it may seem, is only a few weeks away….do watch out for the announcement!

Yesterdays episode of the BBC2 programme, The Antiques Road Trip, a spin-off from the BBC1 programme, Bargain Hunt, was partly filmed in Chawton,

and featured Jane Austen’s House Museum.

I thought you might like to see some images from it.

The programme is a gentle jaunt about the country in the company of two auctioneers/experts who buy and sell antiques on the way, all the profits to benefit charity. The programme makes stops at various spots of interest along the road trip route, and in episode 15 of the third series, Paul Laidlaw took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum.

He was greeted at the door by Louise West, the museum’s curator…

and was taken to see the dining room…

where the tiny but very important table where Jane Austen sat, revised and wrote all six of her finished novels


was admired and wondered about.

He also visited the new study area in the museum- which used to house its tiny shop ( now in a much larger and better situation in the restored barn! ) where a first edition copy of Sense and Sensibility– appropriately enough in this its anniversary year- was on show.

If you can try and watch the programme on the BBC Iplayer- it is available for another six days and the Jane Austen House part of the programme  is approximately 25 minutes into the programme. Paul Laidlaw was obviously  quite taken with the museum and asked some interesting questions. Its well worth a look .

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