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Many of you were intrigued by the post on Mrs Eleanor Coade’s house, Belmont, in Lyme Regis, which I wrote last week. I thought you might like to know of this very reasonably priced book, published by Shire, which gives a very good over view of Mrs Coade’s life and works. Her “stone” ornaments were used extensively by Georgian architects and there are many, many examples of her works still surviving today- although because of their resemblance to stone it has sometimes been difficult to attribute them to her manufactory!
This book is only 48 page long but it is packed with information about Mrs Coade and her manufactory, dispelling some myths along the way. In particular, the story that Mrs Coades formula for her stone or Lithodopia,as she termed it, was a secret:
The formula for Coade stone was never a secret, as has sometimes been claimed. The architect, David Lang(1174-1856) who used Coade stone, described its composition in a book (1818) on his Custom House in London:”[Coade stone is] a material which, although composed of various ingredients, may be described as a species of terracotta. It combines in one mass pipe-clay, flint, sand, glass and stoneware that has already passed the furnace. These are ground to provide a very fine powder and are mixed in the proper proportions and the whole is kneaded together by means of the addition of water. In this stage it forms a kind of paste which has the ductility of clay usually employed in modelling”
The modelling procees used by Mrs Coade is explained, as is her use of sculptors, notably John Bacon and Joseph Panzettta. But what is most important and interesting to me is the second half of the book which is a gazetteer of the many of the Coade stone pieces that are still extant and are relatively easy to access. Among the examples listed are this amazing statue of George III at Weymouth, below. George III and and his family, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma used to visit this seaside resort (though not at the same time!) and the statue dates from 1809. This photograph is reproduced with the very kind permission of my Twitter friend, Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints. Do click on it to examine the intricate detail of the piece.
Another very interesting example of Coade stone is the intricate and beautiful pediment in King William Court at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich which was designed by one of Jane Austen’s favourite artists, Benjamin West. Joseph Panzetta modeled the piece, and a detail of the central section can be seen on the cover to the book at the beginning of this post. It depicts Britannia, representing Britain, receiving the dead body of Nelson from the sea-god, Neptune. Nelson’s body lay in state at Greenwhich when it was returned to England in 1806 after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805.
This was erected in 1813, and was one of the Coade factory’s largest and most ambitious commissions. It is 40 feet long and ten feet high. The Coade factory also made other Nelson monuments including the statue of Nelson for the Nelson column erected in Great Yarmouth in 1819.
If your appetite for more information on Eleanor Caode and her wares has been whetted by the post on Belmont in Lyme Regis, then I can throughly recommend this astoundingly reasonably priced book( £5.99) to you . I am keeping a copy in my car so that I can seek out Coade stone examples on my travels.
In 2006 I was privileged to see this suit, shown below in its restored state, just before it went to be stabilised and restored, while I was on a visit to Chawton House Library. It is now the subject of an appeal, for it needs a special display case in order that the public can have access to it, to view it in all its restored glory
Chawton House was, of course, known to Jane Austen as The Great House in Chawton village and it was once owned by Edward Knight, her brother, shown below in his Grand Tour portrait, which is now also on show at the Library.
Edward inherited the Godmersham estate in Kent and the Chawton estate in Hampshire from Thomas Knight. He was a relative of George Austen, Edward and Jane’s father. Thomas and his wife were childless and had “adopted ” Edward, and made him their heir. This grand inheritance enabled him to provide a productive and happy home for Jane Austen her sister, Cassandra, their mother, Mrs Austen and their friend Martha Lloyd from 1809, at what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum in the village.
This silk suit- a suit of two pieces, frock coat and breeches- has been in the Knight family since the 1790s.
It is said to have belonged to Edward, and the suit is now on loan to Chawton House Library by kind permission of Richard Knight, Edward’s descendant. Since I saw it the suit has been restored. Louise Squire, the textile conservator, prepared a report on it in 2009 and commented:
“The matching silk frock coat and breeches are dated to approximately 1789. The coat is fully lined with a yellow silk taffeta fabric,with the sleeves being lined in a white plain weave linen fabric. The olive green breeches are constructed in ribbed silk and feature a wide waistband, loose fitting seat and finish below the knee with narrow cuffs. The coat and breeches are a good example of the fashion of the day, with Edward’s penchant for oversize buttons!”
The Library has had a bespoke mannequin made for the suit, which you can see here, below, displaying the restored olive green silk breeches.
The suit is very small by modern standards, hence the need for the bespoke mannequin, and it is a fascinating object in its own right, without the added interest of its Austen family connections. For the suit to be put on display and for all us all to be able to enjoy it, it now needs a special conservation-grade display case, not only to display it but to protect it. This will cost around £5000, and the Library has raised nearly half the sun required for it. But just over half of the sum still needs to be raised, hence their current appeal for funds.
So, if you think you might be able to help the library with financial contributions towards the cost of displaying this very interesting Austen relic, you can contact Eleanor Marsden, the Development Director, on telephone number 01420-541010 or you can e-mail her on Elanor.email@example.com, for she would be delighted to hear from you with any offers of help you can afford to give.
The BBC TV programme Bargain Hunt continued its series of items on Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire this week, with a look at a superb set of early 18th century chairs which were most probably commissioned by the Leigh family, who built and owned Stoneleigh, from the Cabinet Makers to George I, Moore and Gumley. The chairs are thought to date from 1715-1725.
These chairs, of carved walnut, have survived en suite, and are still on show for visitors to see today.
James Moore and his partner John Gumley specialised in richly carved pieces of furniture, particularly mirror frames and tables. James Moore was a highly skilled worker in gesso. This was a mixture of chalk and size that was built up in layers on a wooden ground, carved in low relief and gilded, and you can see his work in evidence on these chairs. Here you can see a close-up of the carved top rail of the chairs, which have been carved with the arms of the Leigh family, and their baron’s coronet…
The two arms chairs have beautifully carved arms,
that splay outwards,
and which had been gessoed and guided with bell flower motifs and which terminate in this deliciously elegant curlicue
The centre of the frame supporting the seat of the chairs is decorated with more of Moore’s gilding, in the form of the Leigh cypher:
But the glory of them to me, as a once keen needleworker, is the original early 18th century needlepoint which covers the seats and backs of all the chairs
You might also like to see another chair that was featured: an 18th century hail chair, plainly carved
but painted with the Leigh family crest, of a Unicron:
Jane Austen’s keen eye must surely have noticed these interesting chairs when she visited Stoneleigh in 1806. For those of you in the UK, the programme is available to see for the next five days on the BBC’s iPlayer and you can access it here.
The Zoffany exhibition has now opened at the Royal Academy and I shall be (D.V.) going to see it in the next few weeks, and will, of course, be reporting back to you here. The catalogue/book accompanying the exhibition arrived with a thump on my door mat a few weeks ago and I thought you might like to hear my thoughts on it. Mary Webster’s magnificent monograph on Zoffany has to be the main reference point for those wishing to delve into the minutiae of his life and works, but it is rather an expensive volume. If you have less cash to spare you might want to consider this book as a more than acceptable alternative.
The book is, as you would expect of a Yale publication, superbly illustrated throughout. But the essays that make up the first part of the book are, in my very humble opinion, outstanding. Martin Postle’s opening essay on Zoffany’s life and reputation is fascinating, beautifully written and appropriately illustrated, and draws this interesting comparison with Hogarth:
Zoffany’s art is often appreciated for its technical accomplishment and keen eye for detail. As with Hogarth it is also distinguished by its incisive social commentary and irrelevant brand of humour. It provides a sophisticated and often guileful commentary, which challenges the parameters of hierarchical structures, national boundaries and social mores. Zoffany, was like Hogarth, temperamentally unsuited to follow the conventional career of the compliant “society” painter. However, like Hogarth, Zoffany proved two be a consummate painter of society
Robin Simons’ chapter on Zoffany and the theatre is fascinating, providing the reader with tremendous detail of the workings of the 18th century theatres in London and the provinces,, which, with its patent theatres and performances censored by the Lord Chamberlain, was so different from our theatrical experience today. One of Zoffany’s earliest patrons was the actor David Garrick and this association guaranteed him many, many theatrical commissions. These theatrical portraits now can seem rather stilted and staged, to excuse a pun, but by careful study of the them and the scenes they are meant to represent it is clear that Zoffany took this genre by the scruff of its neck and developed it, becoming one of its greatest exponents and chroniclers. His portrait of Thomas King as Touchstone in As You LIke It from 1780, below, is a tour de force.
Zoffany’s great conversation pictures, like this one below of the Sharpe family, have become so ubiquitous we now rarely notice the details. But if you look closely enough there seem to be indications of something other than mere representations of family life being recorded. Kate Redford’s chapter on Zoffany and British Portraiture is, as ever, a wonderfully considered piece of writing, and places Zoffany’s work in its proper context, explaining that his conversation pieces were exception pieces of work, often employing subtle narrative devices which,when decoded, illuminate the witty,sometimes bawdy nature of 18th century society in England.
The Sharp Family, painted between 1779-81 shows the comfortably-off family during one their Water Scheems, when they performed on their boats and barges. This family, one of whose members was Granville Sharp the abolitionist, were renowned among society for both the expertise of their musical performances and their conviviality.
However, in this central section, Zoffany plays visual jokes, an “in-joke” if you like, something that the Sharps, in common with many 18th century families indulged in. For example, they often signed letters using the musical notation for “sharp” instead of writing their names .This word play was taken up by Zoffany, and interpreted visually. Below, we can see Granville Sharp holding his double flageolet, a difficult instrument to master, behind his brother’s, James’ head, so that it resembled the form of a cuckold’s horn.
James’ nickname was Vulcan, the farrier to the gods and husband of Venus, who cuckolded him after she fell in love with Mars.
Sitting above are the wives of two of the brothers. James wife, Catherine wearing a lilac dress and a black shawl and William Sharpe’s wife. Neither were very fond of music, and can be seen comforting each other rather in the manner of golf widows: they had musically obsessed husbands and paid the price ! This is all very clever, and the in -joke was hopefully enjoyed by the Sharp family but as Kate Redford keenly remarks, this is an artistic approach that also had its dangers:
The appeal of these narrative devices probably relied on raillery; equivalent to a light-hearted banter that showed the sitter’s modest ability to laugh at themselves and that fitted the relatively more informal and lively milieu of the conversation piece tradition .Zoffany’s patrons no doubt enjoyed the wit of his clever juxtapositions and narrative conceits, although, on occasion, he must surely have sheen sailing close to the wind….
Luckily for Zoffany he was a friend of the Sharpes and most probably enjoyed their clever company and conversation. He was also a keen musician who also took part in similar water parties and knew many professional musicians. The joke, which was at James Sharpe’s expense in a possibly offensive way, was probably allowable because Zoffany was part of their circle- a fact indicated by the presence of his dog, Roma, sitting in the foreground of the picture, to represent the artist. He was not so lucky with other, very prestigious clients and compositions. More on this after my visit to the exhibit.
So, to conclude, if you are unable to visit the Royal Academy to see the exhibition for yourself, tout are fascinated by these portraits and what they reveal about the nature of late 18th century society in Britain (and beyond), I do hope you will purchase this fascinating, beautiful and very readable book. Zoffany’s appeal for me lies more in the canvasses he completed in late 18th century India, with all its Austen associations, and I am so looking forward to seeing many canvass that are normally only on show in India. Society Observed indeed.
I wrote a review of this short but fascinating book a few months ago- ( go here to read it) and I thought you might like to know that it is now available to purchase in Kindle e-book form.
I’ve done this because, though I love books I’m running out of physical space to store them, and I do find I’m using my Kindle and my iPad for research far more often these days. Having it available wherever me and my Kindle go is fabulous and so convenient.
If you would like to download it for the very reasonable price of £4.64 then go here to do so.
Andrea Galer the costume designer has, in conjunction with the Jane Austen Centre of Bath’s Online shop decided to auction some of her costumes from the 2007 ITV production of Persuasion, and from the BBC’s Miss Austen Regrets, the dramatised biography of Jane Austen’s life as seen from the perspective of the last few months of her life.
Here you can see two of the costumes that are going to be auctioned on E-Bay (UK). First, the violet dress worn by Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot in Persuasion:
and , below, the nightdress worn by the divine Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets:
If you go here to Andrea Galer’s own site, you can see that the princes these costumes can command are quite high. The auctions all begin at 99 pence and so are very tempting, I’m sure, for all you costume-lovers out there. The auction also includes items worn by Matthew McFaddeyn in the BBC production of The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, and items from the BBC’s acclaimed production of Charles Dickens Bleak House.
The auction for all these items ends on Sunday 25th march, so good luck to any potential bidders out there!
This coming sunday is Mothering Sunday in the UK, and I thought you might know someone who would enjoy one of these literary gifts, produced by the British Library and available from their online shop.
The Jane Austen scented candle, above, has a fragrance of gardenia, tuberose and jasmine and the box is decorated with a quote from Emma, made by the odious Mrs Elton:
There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.
Other candles are available including this Christmas version, inspired, surprise, surprise, by Charles Dickens:
The candle smells of tangerine, clove and juniper : very Christmassy
Diffusers are also available. Here is one inspired by Leo Tolstoy which is scented with
oakmoss, persimmon and black plum. I quite like the sound of the Oscar Wilde diffuser and candle
scented with cedarwood, thyme and basil. But I’m not quite sure I would plump for the Edgar Allen Poe diffuser or candle…
scented with sandalwood, patchouli and absinthe. Even though it is available as a rather smart travel candle in a tin :)
Today I would like to give you advance notice of a conference to be organised by Serena Dyer and which is to be held at the University of York’s Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the historic Kings Manor in the very heart of the city.
It will take place on Saturday 23rd June from 9.30 until 5.00p.m.
Serena, as you know, is the owner of the Dressing History website, and makes wonderful recreations of historic costumes. On her blog she tells us a little of what we can expect of the conference:
This day conference brings together academic and curatorial work on the desire to dress fashionably in the eighteenth century. From faces to feet, the fashionable men and women of the eighteenth century strove to achieve aesthetic perfection. This series of papers explores the process of fashion dissemination, production and consumption which enabled the fulfilment of these desires, and how this related to the concepts of desire, gender and beauty. The papers to be presented cover subjects such as cosmetics and beauty, fashion plates, silk manufacture and the relationship between dressmaker and client. A small exhibition of fashion plates and accessories from the period will accompany the conference.
Serena, who is studying at York, will be giving a talk on ‘A Beautiful Bargain: Lady Sabine Winn’s relationship with fashion’
The others speakers will include Professor Aileen Ribeiro of the Courtauld Institute, talking on Desiring Beauty: women and cosmetics in the eighteenth century, which will no doubt be based on her latest book,
Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art, which I reviewed here. I am looking forward to hearing her speak very much indeed, as I last heard her speak at the Costume Society’s AGM in Bath a few years ago.
Another of the talks which will be of interest to Janeites is one being given by Hilary Davidson of the Museum of London – ‘Recreating Jane Austen’s Pelisse-Coat’
This is a garment that is in the care of the Hampshire Museum service, and here is a link to their webpage about it. Though it is known as Jane Austen’s pelisse, there is no absolute proof it was hers, as their website states:
Sadly there is no absolutely definite link between the pelisse and Jane Austen although the family association is quite strong. Jane died unmarried in 1817 and left the bulk of her estate to her sister, Cassandra, who took charge of her papers and other belongings and later distributed them amongst other members of the family…This particular pelisse was presumably given to Edward by Cassandra and it would no doubt have brought back vivid memories of Jane wearing it. It was handed down to his daughter, who also loved Jane and spent considerable time with her and could also have seen her aunt wearing it towards the end of her life. That she gave it to her friend, Miss Glubbe, who made sure that it was returned to the Austen/Knight family argues an acknowledged obligation on her part. The pelisse was then handed down through the family until 1993, when it was given to the Museums Service.
However, I will be very interested in the talk, so see what secrets this garment may be concealing.
The Conference webpage can be accessed here, and the registration details can also be accessed via this page. I will, D.V. be reporting back to you on this topic.
A dear friend of mine, who loves the story of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion , cherishes the notion that, after they are married, they took one of the lovely villas overlooking Lyme, set in the hills leading back from the sea front overlooking the Cobb, and live happily ever after there in sight of the sea and at the place where Wentworth’s admiration for all Anne’s admirable qualities (and not a little jealousy) was first revived. One such house is the subject of a restoration project and I thought you all might be interested to hear of it, and may even want to help out by giving donations.
Belmont, shown above, is a fascinating house on the hills that surround Lyme, overlooking the Cobb, where Louisa Musgrove took her unfortunate tumble.
It has intriguing historic and literary connections and the Landmark Trust , who now own the building, are trying to raise £2.1 million to restore it so that it can be used by the public as a rather special holiday let, and the adjoining stable block can be used as an exhibition space with full public access. The Landmark Trust is one of my favourite organisations. It saves and restores threatened historic buildings and gives them a new life and purpose. I’ve stayed in two of their lets: The East Banqueting House in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds and Auchinleck House in Scotland.
The house was, until very recently, the home of the author, John Fowles , shown above, who loved Lyme with a passion, and who was also the curator of the Philpott Museum. He wanted the house to be saved for public use, and this wife has generously allowed the Landmark Trust to take on the building so that it can be renovated and re-opened. However it was the home a very famous woman of teh late 18th century, Eleanor Coade, who is famous for her “secret” formula used for creating a form of artificial stone which was more durable than natural stone and which took her name, Coade Stone.
The Coades were a West Country family, and Eleanor’s uncle built the house sometime before 1784 which was the date when it was transferred into her ownership. She embellished the house with her stone ornaments. Her business,based in Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Walk, Lambeth, produced some of the most accurate and detailed stone ornaments and they were famed for their strength and durability,and of course, for their cheapness in comparison with stone which had been individually quarried and sculpted.
The ornaments,- made from moulds, were used by many of the most famous architects of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They included Robert Adam, James and Samuel Wyatt, Sir William Chambers, John Nash, and John Soane. Some of her most famous and quirky designs are to be found on the entrance to Twinnings tea shop and museum in The Strand in London.
(©Victor Grigas via Wilkepdia Commons)
©Robert Freidus via The Victorian Web,
The Chinese figures atop the pediment are made from Eleanor’s stone. Jane Austen know this place for she obtained tea from this long-established firm of tea merchants here and wrote to her sister, Cassandra of it in her letter, written from her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, which is just a little further along the Strand:
I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.
(See letter dated March 5th 1814)
In her next letter to Cassandra of the 9th March she is annoyed with her mother for forgetting to reimburse her this extra cost:
I suppose my mother recollects that she gave me no money for paying Brecknell and Twining, and my funds will not supply enough.
Back to Belmont…Eleanor was a talented modeller in her own right and she exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1773 and 1780. As her mother’s name was the same as her own, it has for a long time been mistakenly assumed that Mrs Coade, her mother, ran the factory until her death in 1796, but , in fact,‘Mrs’ was a courtesy title given to any unmarried woman in business at that time, recent research by Alison Kelly ,who has written Mrs Coades biography, into bills in the firm’s archive show that Eleanor Coade , and not her mother, was in charge of the firm from 1771. Her “stone” has recently been analyzed and has been shown to be a ceramic material,which is why it has been more durable than stone, even though it has the appearance of it.
Belmont boasts many examples of her stoneware, and as her works are no longer in existence, it would seem that this house, where she lived, could be one of the main monuments to her taste, art and skill. These include the rusticated ornament around the entrance, below…
The swagged frieze around the parapet…
and the masks on the key stones around the building…
including this very appropriately nautical example which depicts Neptune, the god of the sea, which is to be found on the main entrance to the house:
The house was in existence when Jane Austen visited Lyme, in 1804, so it is very probable that she saw it when walking about the lower part of the town, on looking up towards the surrounding hills, and she may even has passed by it on one of her walks around the area.
The Landmark Trust’s plans for the house can be seen here, below, in a video of their house and its history. If you can help with any donations I am sure they will all be gratefully received.
Yes,…this *is* the final post I am going to write on heraldry and the Austen family. However in view of all the interest in my posts on heraldry, liveries and the Austens earlier this year, I thought you might like to see some examples of the Austen crest and seal which are on show at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton.
Above is a wax imprint of the Austen Crest made from a seal. Below is a close up of the wax imprint and you can see, very clearly, that the crest is, as we know, a stag atop a cornet or crown made from bricks…
This is the same device that George Austen, Jane’s father used on his bookplate, below .
Correclty, using heraldic terms, it should be described as:
On a mural crown or, a stag sejant argent, attired or.
Above is an example of an intaglio seal , made from a hard stone, possibly cornelian, engraved with the Austen coat of arms. The blazon( or strict heraldic description ) is as follows:
Or, a chevron gules between three lions gambs erect, erased sable armed of the second.
Which was, as we know from looking at a coloured version of the arms (as shown below on the memorial to James Austen’s first wife, Anne, in Steventon parish church) consisted of
a gold background, upon which is a red chevron, and three lions paws cut off at the middle joint , which are coloured black.
The Austen family motto is inscribed on a ribbon or banner underneath the arms. It is in latin and reads:
Qui Invidit Minor Est
which roughly translated into English means:
Who envies me is smaller than I
Having bourne with all my long meanderings on this subject I thought you all might be interested in seeing some more examples. And I will end this obsession with all things heraldic now, I promise. Well, I will for the time being….;)
As many of you know, recently research, most notably and most diligently undertaken by Janet Clark of the Jane Austen Society, has shown that Worthing in Sussex is most probably Jane Austen’s inspiration for the setting of Sanditon, her last, alas incomplete, work.
Jane Austen stayed in Worthing during the late summer, autumn and possibly winter of 1805, along with her mother, sister, Cassandra and Martha Lloyd, plus her brother, Edward Austen Knight and his wife, Elizabeth, their daughter Fanny, and her governess Anne Sharp. The cottage where she stayed, Stanford Cottage is now a branch of a nation-wide, well- known pizza chain and recently the Worthing Civic Society has erected a plaque there to commemorate Jane Austen’s happy and productive stay in the town.
While she was there Jane Austen seems to have soaked up the atmosphere and the personalities of the locals who were striving to promote a new, bustling watering-place, with an eye to profits . If you go here you can read some more of Janet Clarke’s discoveries,which I find fascinating. I took a trip round Worthing a couple of years ago to see the Austen sites, and while it is no longer the Regency resort of Jane Austen’s day, there are still a few places that she would have known and recognised.
How sad it is to hear, therefore, that one of these places is threatened, and public access to it may permanently cease.
Above is the space under discussion. It is, to use the old Sussex dialect term for it, a Twitten, that is, a small passageway between two walls, examples of which can still be found in some English towns. It is owned by Stagecoach, the nation-wide coaching company, and, as you can see, above, one end of the Twitten is accessed through their property, the local Stagecoach bus station. The other end of the Twitten leads to Library Place, where the circulating library that Jane Austen used in Worthing was situated. It is highly probable that she used this Twitten to visit it, as Stanford Cottage can be accessed via this Twitten and the station, and it is , in fact, a short cut.
This has been the subject of much dispute, and a planning meeting is to be held at the end of March to discuss it.
As Janet Clarke has told me recently, the Twitten
would have been a delightful short cut from her (Jane Austen’s-jfw) residence, in the autumn of 1805, through open land to the seafront and circulating library. It is wonderful for visitors today, to walk in Jane’s footsteps , especially as Stanford Cottage and part of the circulating library are still standing ( the pathway directly links the two as it has done for over 200 years ). Permanently stopping up the pathway would be very detrimental to the Jane Austen trail in Worthing, damaging our heritage and tourism, and diminishing the overall appreciation of Jane Austen’s Worthing for present and future generations.
I really do think that losing any part of our Austen heritage, however small, is just unthinkable. At a time when new discoveries about Jane Austen-related buildings are being made -see the Steventon rectory project- why on earth would a local council want to stop public access to a charming relic of Worthing that Jane Austen would have known and used ? And I would have thought that in these difficult financial times that any direct link to our greatest novelist should be preserved for the public to use and to attract tourism to the town. We are, after all, only five years from the bicentenary of her death in 1817, and interest in all things Jane has never been higher.
I am appalled to be frank, and am considering my response to the council. What do you think about this?
Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Jane Austen continued two years later, in 1850, in her correspondence with William Smith Williams who was the literary adviser to Charlotte’s publisher’s, Smith, Elder and Co. George Smith, the owner of the firm had sent a parcel of books to Charlotte. The twenty books included the first three volumes of Cuthbert Southey’s life of his father, the poet, Robert Southey, the letters of Charles Lamb, and G H Lewes’ play,The Noble Heart. (Ahem….) Also included in the parcel were copies of Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice.
In her letter to Williams of the 12th April 1850 Charlotte, wherein she commented on these book, she again addressed her dissatisfaction with Jane Austen’s style, but I think in this letter, as opposed to the ones written to Lewes, there is less anger:
I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works, “Emma”- read it with interest and just the degree of admiration which Mis Austen herself would ache thought sensible and suitable- anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would ache met with a well-bred sneer, would have clammy scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating peole seriously well; there is a Chinese fidelity , a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it.If I said it to some people(Lewes form instance) they would directly accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics,but I not afraid of you falling into any such vulgar error.
It seems a pity to me that Smith failed to send her copies Mansfield Park and Persuasion. But…and do not beat me…I often wonder if there was some semblance of inverted snobbery at work here. Charlotte Bronte was criticised for delineating very poorly and with little accuracy the scenes in Jane Eyre where the local gentry were disporting themselves at Thornfield Hall. I wonder if she realised that Jane Austen could write these scenes-at Pemberley or Hartfield for example- with ease because she hailed from that same social sphere?
The only grudging compliment made by Charlotte to Jane Austen that I could find was contained in her letter to G. H. Lewes of 18th January of 1848. Lewes again irritated Charlotte by suggesting she should admire the style of Eliza Lynn Linton, shown below. Eliza’s novel, Azeth the Egyptian was described by H. F Chorley as overwrought, tedious and florid in the Atheneum of January 23rd, 1847.
You mention the authoress of ‘Azeth the Egyptian’; you say you think I should sympathise ” with her daring imagination and pictorial fancy”. Permit me to undeceive you; with infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen’s clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen’s page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.
So there you have it: sadly, it is faint praise indeed.
In response to my post about the Haworth parsonage, some of you have asked me to explain what I meant by Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Jane Austen.
Many of Charlotte’s quotes about Jane Austen are available on the internet, but they are rarely quoted in full and are very rarely explained. The bald truth is that Charlotte Bronte, as a romantic writer, seems to have had very little true sympathy or appreciation of Jane Austen’s novels. But her antipathy seems to have stemmed from her introduction to Jane Austen, which took place in a correspondence between herself- writing as “Currer Bell” – and the literary critic, George Henry Lewes and I will quote from her letters here for you to consider.
G.H. Lewes, above, known best today mostly for being the lover of George Elliot, was an influential journalist, author and literary critic of the mid 19th century. He incurred Charlotte Bronte’s wrath by intimating, after the publication of Jane Eyre, that she might profit by writing less melodramatically, and gave her Jane Austen as an exemplar and inspiration. Lewes was fond of Jane Austen and had written in Frazer’s Magazine that
“Fielding and Miss Austen are the greatest novelists in our language”
In the Westminster Review, in an article entitled The Lady Novelists, he wrote that Jane Austen was
“the greatest artist that has ever written, using the term to signify the most perfect mastery over the means to her end. and To read one of her books is like an actual experience of life.
Sadly his work did not come up to the standards of Jane Austen’s, or even of Charlotte Bronte’s novels. They were very melodramatic. For example, I have read his second work of fiction, Rose, Blanche and Violet, published in 1848,as it was part of my grandmother’s collection of books. It is quite poor, in my very humble opinion and is neatly summed up, in the words of Margaret Smith, the editor of Charlotte Bronte’s Selected Letters (OUP, 2007) as
A complicated and incredible plot, and a melodramatic villaness-an adulterous stepmother with “tiger eyes”
Charlotte’s reply, dated 12th January 1848, is very angry, in my opinion. I’m so pleased she had time to consider her reply. Imagine if she had been able to dash off an angry email! She was outraged by Lewes’ suggestions, and this was probably not the best introduction she could have to Jane Austen’s works, for it would seem she had not read any prior to that point. She seethes with scorn, and while her words pretend, in parts, to be meek and submissive, the tone of this letter is anything but, in my opinion:
If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call “melodrama”; I think so, but I am not sure. I think too I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen’s “mild eyes”; “to finish more and be more subdued”; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or at least, when they wrote most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master, which will have its own way, putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new moulding characters, giving unthought- of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is this not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?…
Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say you would rather have written “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tom Jones'” than any of the Waverly Novels? I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with near borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in they elegant but confined houses.These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.
Now I can understand admiration fo George Sand- for though I never saw any of her works which I admired throughout(…yet she has a grasp of mind which if I cannot fully comprehend I very deeply respect; she is sagacious and profound; MIss Austen is only shrewd and observant. Am I wrong – or were you hasty in what you said?
Lewes replied and Charlotte again took umbrage. In her letter to him of the 18th January 1848 she wrote:
What a strange sentence comes next in your letter! You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that “Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no “sentiment”( you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas) no eloquence none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry- and then you add I must “learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artist of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived”
The last point only will I ever acknowledge. Can there be a great Artist without poetry?What I call-what I will bend to as a great Artist, there cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do- as you do by ‘sentiment” .It is poetry, as I comprehend the word which elevates that masculine George Sand and makes out of something coarse, something godlike…Miss Austen being as you say without “sentiment” without poetry, may be – is sensible, real ( or real than true) but she cannot be great.
I submit to your anger which I have now excited( for have I not questioned the perfection of your darling?) the storm may pass over me.Neertheless I will, when I can( I do not know when that will be as I have no access to a circulating library) diligently peruse all Miss Austen’s works as you recommend.
Lewes was one of the people who spread the rumour that Currer Bell was not a man but a woman, yet he was aware that Charlotte wanted to remain anonymous for her reputation’s sake. He did this at the same time that he was fiercely criticising Charlotte’s book, Shirley in his review in the Edinburgh Review. Charlotte had written to him, still as Currer Bell, intimating that should her real persona and sex become known she would
pass away from the public and trouble it no more. Out of obscurity I came, to obscurity I can easily return.
As Juliet Barker wrote in her biography of the Bronte Sisters:
In the light of this letter Lewes subsequent treatment of Currer Bell in the Edinburgh Review was little short of disgraceful. What was almost worse, throughout the review Lewes took every opportunity to gloat over the fact that he was privy to the secret of Currer Bell and suggested that he was on intimate terms with her.
In fact Lewes had just discovered Charlotte’s true identity. Either by persistent enquiry or by pure accident he had met a former schoolfellow of hers who had recognised the Clergy Daughters School in ‘Lowood” and Charlotte Brotne in ‘Currer Bell’…whoever this mysterious informant was Lewes not only made use of his newly acquired knowledge but positively boasted of it.
Poor Charlotte wrote to her publisher that the piece in the Edinburgh Review
…is very brutal and savage. I am not angry with Lewes-but I wish in future he would let me alone-and not write again what makes me feel so cold and sick as I am feeling now
She then wrote Lewes the shortest of notes
I can be on guard against my enemies but God deliver me from my friends.
(See The Brontes, Juliet Barker, pages 724-5)
Eventually Lewes redeemed himself by his review of Villette, but I hardly think this exchange and his actions cover him in any sort of glory. I when I first read about this and Charlotte Bronte’s eventually excursions into society, I wondered how Jane Austen would have fared had she lived and her secret had been well publicised? Perhaps Sir Walter Scott would have protected her from such outrages. Who knows?
And so, it is really no surprise, in my very humble opinion, why Charlotte Bronte disliked Jane Austen’s works so very much. There are more examples of her dislike, but I’ve already written too long on this subject. Stylistically the two authors are worlds apart, but the moral truths running through both writer’s books might have united rather than alienated them. The manner in which they were recommend to Charlotte, in an almost insulting way by a rather pompous and self-important man who was himself, a very poor writer of fiction, meant that Jane Austen was doomed to fail in Charlotte’s eyes. I think, however, that Jane Austen, whatever she thought of Charlotte disliking her works, might have applauded Charlotte’s vigorous defence of her own style, especially as she was under attack from such a pompous fellow as Lewes (and I’m certain she would have disapproved of his morals) ;)
Charlotte Bronte made the headlines again last week, with news of a recently rediscovered piece of homework she wrote while at school in Brussels, and so I thought you might like to see some photographs I took last summer when I visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Howarth in Yorkshire.
I though you also might like the chance to compare and contrast the homes of these two writers, as we concentrated so much on Steventon Rectory last week. Haworth Parsonage was built circa 1778-9. It was the home of the Bronte family from 1820, when Mr Bronte was appointed to be Perpetual Curate of the parish.
The gabled addition, which you can see to the right of this picture, above, was added in 1878 by the Reverend John Wade who succeeded Patrick Bronte.
The original plan of the house ,as it would have been when the Bronte family lived there, was of a typical double fronted Georgian house: two rooms separated by an entrance passage which leads to a staircase hall at the rear of the ground floor. There was also a kitchen and a small storage room behind these rooms at the back of the house. This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s drawing of how it looked when the Brontes lived there:
This is Mr Bronte’s study, below,
which was to the right of the entrance and the dining room-where the Bronte sister did most of their writing and revising, walking round and round the table in the centre as they discussed their plots, below, was to the left.
The kitchen and small fuel room,which later became Charlotte’s husbands study,were to the back of the house. The comfortable interiors are often something of a surprise to visitors: two of my companions expected to see some windswept farmhouse with little in the way of creature comforts;) The position of the parsonage, directly next to the graveyard and on the shadows of many, now mature trees, is very different from the scene in Mrs Gaskell’s drawing, above.
It is very atmospheric however…
and a stone set into the wall of the garden marks the spot where a gate once stood
and where they all, apart from Anne who died in Scarborough, were carried to their graves.
Haworth village runs down the hill -the rather steep hill- from the Parsonage
Apart from the cars it is easy to imagine how it was when the Brontes were living there…with the apothecaries shop in the centre of the village
The view down the steep main street is rather beautiful with the hills rising beyond it
But I admit to begin too scared of slipping to take the route, up or down…
I remained, as it is reported that Bramwell Bronte often did, in the confines of the Black Bull public house taking refreshment.
Charlotte Bronte’s comments about Jane Austen have always troubled me. I’ve loved both authors since my early teenage years, and if often seems as if Charlotte thought they came from two different planets,so different did she consider was their approach to their work. But, like many of the homes of authors I love, it is possible to see parallels,perhaps you don’t agree?
Here finally is a very short video of the garden parsonage and church.
You were very interested in yesterday’s post, and rightly so because it is I think a fascinating project. It really will be fascinating to read of the discoveries being made on the site of Jane Austen’s birthplace,and what it reveals to us about the Austen family’s life style at Steventon. Apparently, interesting “finds” have been made every day of the dig
So, I’ve dug around ( groan!) and found some more information, which clears up some of the questions you raised in the comments, yesterday.
The work is being carried out by a Hampshire based firm, Archaeo Briton. They are a group of experienced archeologists, who have formed their own firm to undertake individual archaeological projects. The Steventon Rectory project is, according to their website, not only going to lead to an exhibition at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, but also to a publication, Archaeology Greets Jane Austen.
“The Rectory Project will research the home of the authoress Jane Austen to explore the factual lifestyle of the Austen family. Jane Austen was born at Steventon on 16th December 1775 and lived there with her family for 25 years. The “Rectory” was demolished to the ground during the 1820s and very little is factually known about the building or its contents. The project will use archaeological research methods to discover the material culture of the Rectory and the Austen family.
The project has been made possible financially by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and also support from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation. Maureen Stiller of the Jane Austen Society has been closely involved in the project. As have lots of volunteers from the locality, which is wonderful.
If you go through this link, here, you can see a short BBC Hampshire film on the project. I am so looking forward to the results of this research. And you can be assured I will keep you all informed of any developments.