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You may recall a scene in Patricia Rozeman’s adaptation of Mansfield Park where we see Julia and Maira Bertram playing a strange instrument for the entertainment of the family . Here is a scene cap from the film showing them  at work:

They were, in fact, playing a glass harmonica.

This is a fascinating instrument which was invented by the American polymath, Benjamin Frankin in 1761 while he was living  in London. He had heard Edward Delaval , a Fellow of the Royal Society, play on his set of musical glasses in 1759. This was an idea with which we are more familiar, I think , as we can still see these types of glasses played today by some variety artists. In fact these glasses -wine glasses filled to different levels with water which were played by rubbing wetted fingers along the rims- seems to have been the  brain child of a Mr Puckeridge of Ireland,  but he and his glasses perished in a fire. Edward Delaval was fascinated by the properties of glass and he studied the specific gravities of several metals and their colors when bonded with glass, and also how to use it in the manufacture of artificial gems, hence his interest in this instrument. Benjamin Franklin improved upon his idea- of the rows of glasses fitted in a cabinet, by creating a very different instrument.  Here is his design from the modern exponent,  Thomas Bloch’s fascinating website:

You can see that it is quite radically different: scores of glass bowls are nested within each other, strung centrally on a spindle that spins, and which is turned by means of a treadle.  Here, below,  is a late 18th century version in its wooden cabinet, with a handle to turn the glass bowls, not a treadle:

Here is a photograph of  Thomas Bloch’s  own glass harmonica, which shows the position of the players hands when operating the harmonica :

Frnaklin’s instrument was so improved that it  transformed the performance aspects of the harmonica. Now duets could be played,as in the adaptation of Mansfield Park, and individual players could now play chords .If you go here you can see the example in London Horniman Musuem which was used in the linked BBC Radio 3 programme below.

This was not an  instrument that could be enjoyed by everyone: it was very expensive to produce  and buy and needed very specifically trained teachers. Mozart was a fan and wrote some beautiful music for it. It was used by Mesmer as part of his electronic experiments, to soothe his patients. But this reputation for celestial soothing music was not long lived. One of its most famous exponents was the blind German-born woman, Marianne Kirchgessner, and she was famous for giving concerts on the instrument throughout Europe. She was rumoured to have been driven mad by playing the instrument, but this was probably not due to its strange sound( which I confess I can only listen to for very small intervals as it makes me grind my teeth!) but to lead poisoning. Playing with whetted fingers on glass that had high lead content most probably contributed to her demise.

Modern composers have use the instrument to great effect- in film scores and in rock music; Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, for example. If you would like to know more of the history of this fascinating instrument  you might care to listen to this fabulous BBC Radio 3 programme, presented by Dame Eveyln Glennie, one of our most distinguished percussion players, shown below.

If Chimes Could Whisper is a short (45 minutes long) but totally enthralling history of the Glass Harmonica and contains a lot of examples of the instrument being played- pieces of music which date from the 18th century to the present day.

If you click on the link above you should be able to access the webpage linking got the programme which is available to “listen again” for another five days.

Alternatively here, above, is a video of Thomas Bloch playing his  fabulous glass harmonica, which I’m sure you will enjoy. It is a very evocative sound. How appropriate that the Miss Bertrams were portrayed playing  such an instrument; expensive, exclusive, seemingly celestial but with hidden dangers ;)

Today I’d like to give you advance notice of a talk to be given by Professor Kathryn Sutherland of St Anne’s College, Oxford University, at Chawton House Library on the 8th May entitled  ‘The Watsons’: Jane Austen Practising.

The Watsons is one of the few remaining manuscripts written in Jane Austen’s hand to survive, and you may recall that it was bought by the Bodleian Library last year, to ensure that it remains in the UK for scholars and Austen enthusiasts to continue to have access to it. You can see it here on the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts website.  The only other manuscripts of Jane Austen’s  adult works that survive are the other unfinished fragment, Sanditon, together with the cancelled chapters of Persuasion. Professor Sutherland, below, has made an especial study of Jane Austen’s existing  manuscripts, partly in an attempt to try to decipher her working methods and so her talk promises to be fascinating.

In her book, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood,  Professor Sutherland deals with many fascinating subjects, looking anew and in great detail  on aspects of Jane Austen’s life and works we take for granted as having “always been there”, particularly with regard to the censorship of the Austen and Knight families surrounding the release of biographical information. The part of her book I particularly admired  were the chapters where she goes into amazing detail to try to determine how exactly  Jane Austen wrote: how she revised, amended and fiddled with her manuscripts and what processes her works were subjected to before and after they left her care and control. The Professor has been criticised on the internet and in the press for some of her comments regarding Jane Austen’s grammar. In the book, in layman’s terms if you will allow me, Professor Sutherland details how Austen’s later works  were corrected by a series of editors. Some journalists clearly decided that Professor Sutherland was on the side of the editors, and that she  was agreeing with their “attacks” on Austen’s original and idiosyncratic texts. It is my understanding, on reading the book, that nothing could be further from the truth. This brouhaha has sadly detracted from her main argument, which is that Jane Austen’s genius should not and ought not to  have been constrained by the workings of and the unasked for (and in many cases unwarranted) imposition of  a Victorian ( or Edwardian or even modern) man’s idea of correct grammar. And that, in fact, by imposing their own standardised version of correct, written English upon her texts, quite a lot of Jane Austen’s original intent has been diminished as a result.  She conducts a minute forensic  examination of the novels, their publishing history  and the changes various editors have imposed upon Austen( and us). The results will surprise you (and often discomfort). This part of the book is a fascinating and illuminating read. Some of the language used is undoubtedly academic and  it is challenging…but then, why should reading always be a totally effortless pastime?

Reading her book opened my eyes to the terrible power an editor has, especially when the author is not  available to defend her choices. These choices- her use of words, punctuation and grammar- which make perfect sense  in the context of her novel, may be seen as sloppy or careless mistakes to a reader not exactly in tune with the author’s original intent. I had really not considered just how crucial the editorial approach to a text truly is until I had considered the effects on these texts. ( Forgive me, I am not always so dense). This book opened my eyes and made me think critically about the whole process of publishing a book, in detail, for the first time. As a dyslexic with some paralysed fingers, it has taken me years to try to attune myself to grammatical rules, punctuation and spelling: I once had the luxury of secretaries to point me in the right direction but I always had to ensure that their well-meaning additions did not detract from my correct legal turn of phrase. Now spell and grammar checks irritate me in a similar way ;)

I confess I waited to read the paperback edition of her book to be available because the original price for the hardback was prohibitive, and I think much of the outrage written about regarding Professor Sutherland’s comments reveals that  not many of her critics seem to be familiar with the arguments in her book either. On reading her book- which though academic in tone is not inaccessible to the amateur reader of Jane Austen- I promise– it becomes clear that she is firmly on the side of Austen and her creative genius.

The book is available now as a reasonably priced paperback and also as an even more attractively priced Kindle edition. I would urge you to seek it out, and while it is an academic study, its subject matter is so fascinating and revelatory, I am convinced you will find it worthwhile and that it might very well alter your thoughts on Austen’s works and how they are edited .

Back to the Chawton House Lecture. It is to take place on the 8th May and tickets are available from Chawton House Library. Go here to see all the details. I do hope many of you can go along. If you can’t, do try to have sight of Professor Sutherland’s book. I really don’t think you will regret it.

The Museum at Andover is an interesting place for Austenites to visit. JAne Austen visited it when she passed through Andover, usually while she was on her way from Steventon to Ibthorpe to stay with her friend, Martha Lloyd and her mother.  She would call on the owner’s wife, Mrs Poore and her mother there, as we discover from this extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen, her sister, dated 30th November, 1800:

I left my Mother very well when I came away & left her with the strictest orders to continue so. My journey was safe and not unpleasant. I spent an hour in Andover, of which Messre Painter and Redding has the larger part-twenty minutes however fell to the lot of Mrs Poore and her mother,whom I was glad  to see in good looks and spirits. -The latter asked me more questions than I had very well time to answer; the former I beleive (sic) is very big but I am by no means certain;- she is either very big, or not at all big, I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is much diminished – The two youngest boys only were at home; I mounted the highly-extolled Staircase & went into the elegant Drawing -Room,which I fancy is now Mrs Harrison’s apartment;- and in short did everything that extraordinary Abilities can be supposed to compass in so short a time.

The Poore’s house is now the Andover Museum, and as you can see from the photograph of it, below, you can see that  it has  a core of a fine Georgian building, on the left, while it has been added to by the Victorians, on the right.

Inside you can see the very fine staircase that Jane Austen mentioned: from her tone others must have mentioned how grand it was. And with reason ,as you can see:

Set in its own staircase hall, leading off from the main entrance to the museum to the left of the building…

…it is, as you can tell, very imposing and grand indeed.

No wonder it was highly extolled.

Before she was married to Mr Philip Poore,  Mrs Poore was all known to both Cassandra and Jane Austen, and her maiden name was Mary Harrison. She is mentioned in a couple of Jane Austen’s earliest surviving letters: the first dated 5th September 1796 addressed to her sister, Cassandra written from Rowling in Kent, has this intriguing reference:

Give my love to Mary Harrison & tell her I wish  whenever she is attached to a young Man, some respectable Dr Marchmont may keep them apart for five volumes

The second direct mention is in a letter, again to Cassandra and written from Rowling dated 15th September 1796 :

Buy Mary Harrison’s Gown by all means. You shall have mine for ever so much money, tho’ if I am tolerably rich when I get home, I shall like it very much myself.

Mary Harrison was one of the Austen sisters’ circles of friends. Her  brother was the  Reverend William Harrison (1768-1846). He was, at this time, the vicar of Overton,  which, as you can see from this section taken from my  Cary’s map pf Hampshire for 1797 that it was(and is still) not far from Steventon: the map has been annotated with the positions of Steventon, Overton, Andover and Hursbourne Tarrant, which is near to Ibthorpe, Jane’s final destination of the day she travelled to Andover in 1800:

You can trace  the route Jane Austen would have travelled,  from Dean Gate to Andover. She would have passed through Overton, hone of Mary Harrison’s brother, then through Whitchurch and eventually on to Andover. The arrows are numbered as follows:1, Steventon; 2,Overton;  3, Andover ;4, Hurstbourne Tarrant.

Mary married, as his second wife, Philip-Henry Poore in September 1797. Philip-Henry Poore (1764-1847) was from Andover and he practised as the town’s surgeon, apothecary, and man-midwife. He and Mary had a daughter, Mary-Anne. She was born in March 1799. Was Jane Austen alluding to a possible later and doomed pregnancy in her letter to Cassandra of  November 1800?

…the former I beleive (sic) is very big but I am by no means certain;- she is either very big, or not at all big, I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is much diminished-…

But what is truly interesting is that Mary Harrison nearly became Jane and Cassandras sister-in-law. Anne Matthews, James Austen’s first wife, died in 1795, leaving him with one daughter, Anna. James, Jane’s eldest brother, had after her death, according to family tradition an infatuation with his glamorous cousin Eliza de Fueillide, but  this was not successfully concluded on his part. He turned his attention instead to  two local Marys: Mary Lloyd, sister of Martha Lloyd, Jane’s great friend, and Mary Harrison. In one of her brittle, carefree, early letters to survive,  Jane Austen asks this question of Cassandra regarding James’ impending martial decision:

Let me know how J. Harwood deports himself without the Miss Biggs-and which of the Marys will carry the day with my Brother James

( See Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 5th September 1796)

She had still not heard a week later:

I depend  on hearing from James very soon; he promised an account of the  Ball, and by this time he must have collected his Ideas enough , after the fatigue of dancing, to give me one.

( see Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 15th September 1796)

James eventually did make up his mind and asked Mary Lloyd to be his second wife. Mrs Austen seems to have decided to bring matters to a head by asking Mary Lloyd to spend some time at the Steventon rectory in the autumn of 1796. James proposed in November of that year, and they were married at Hursbourne Tarrant on 17th January 1797. There exists a rather lovely letter of welcome to Mary that Mrs Austen sent to her on hearing the news that JAmes had proposed and was accepted: if my son ever marries (he is but 14 at present!) I hope I have the decency to send my prospective daughter-in-law such a letter:

Mr Austen and Myself desire you will accept our best Love and that you will believe us truly sincere when we assure you that we feel the most heartfelt satisfaction at the prospect we have of adding you to the number of our very good Children. Had the Election been mine, you, my dear Mary, are the person I should have chosen for James’s Wife, Anna’s Mother and my Daughter being as certain as I can be of anything in this uncertain World, that you will greatly increase and promote the happiness of each of the three.

(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, by Deirdre Le Faye, Page 99)

And so, rejected by James , Mary Harrison opted for the charms of Mr Poore and his lovely house in Andover. Which you can now visit, and admire the much extolled staircase;)

I have to convey my sincere thanks to the staff of the Andover Museum, for  allowing me to photograph the stairs, especially Chloe and Ania who were patience and kindness personified. If you are ever in the vicinity do go to the Andover Museum: it is full of interesting Iron Age artefacts amongst other things,  and see for yourself the splendour that surrounded Mrs Poore and her mother , and give a thought to the woman who was once very nearly Jane Austen’s sister-in-law.

I received this book as a gift at Christmas. Its taken me some time to get round to reading it but on my recent holiday I rescued it from the teetering pile of Books to be Read that has been reproaching me silently for some time, and sat down. Within 48 hours I  had devoured it.

I freely confess that , for me, reading about the doings of the generations of Austens/ Knights etc who followed Jane Austen is not high on my list of priorities, but I may have been wrong in this belief for  Sophia Hillan’s account of the children of Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky and rich brother, is a fascinating and very good read. I had not expected to be sucked into their world so quickly nor, more importantly, did I expect to care for them and their fates so much.

Sophia Hillan tells the sometimes complicated but fascinating tale of Edward Knight and his wife, Elizabeth’s children, who featured  so frequently in Jane Austen’s letters. She concentrates on the lives of Louisa (Lou-below) who was Jane’s goddaughter, Marianne (May) and Cassandra (Cass), but of course, during the course of the tale, we hear much about the lives of the other seven children and their aunts and uncles.

Louisa and Cassandra married the same man, Lord George Hill of Gweedore in Donegal.He married first Cassandra who died in 1842, of puerperal fever after the birth of her last child . In 1847, after she had cared for her sister’s children for five years, Lord George Hill married Louisa. This was marriage that caused much discussion and distress as such marriages were then unlawful in Victorian England. Indeed, the couple travelled to Denmark so that they could be married, as it would have been impossible for them to have been married in England, as marriages between brother and sisters-in-law were then considered illegal on the grounds of consanguinity.

The story of their time in Ireland where Lord George was seem as an improving but strict landowner is truly fascinating and absorbing. Sophia Hillan writes with great insight and sensitivity on the terrible time of the Irish Famines and the actions of landlords whose acts, which now seem cruel and incomprehensible. These acts  were often prompted by the desire for efficiency but  ultimately failed, tragically, to understand the customs, habits and nature of the Irish over whom the Anglo-Irish landlords possessed such power. The later part of the book deals with this subject magnificently and I found myself rapidly turning the pages,desperate to know the outcome of Lord George’s actions.

The sister I enjoyed reading about most was Marianne (May-shown above). Her story  could have been heartbreaking, but her strength of character and bravery made it one of triumph over adversity. She never married but devoted herself to looking after her father and then,after his death,  her brothers. She did indeed begin life as  an Emma Woodhouse figure, the daughter of a great house, Godmersham in Kent, administering the household and overseeing the care of the poor in the parish under her care after the marriage of her sister Fanny. She eventually moved from Godmersham to Chawton where she lived with her brother Charles Bridges Knight, who was rector of Chawton, and like her Aunt Jane, she seems to have enjoyed her quiet, settled life in that village. But she ended her life as a Miss Bates, impoverished and without a real home to call her own, settling in Ballyarr in Donegal, with her widowed sister, Lou, where she eventually died. I loved her character, with its refusal to be cowed by circumstances, her positive outlook and above all, her humour. She did indeed seem to inherit some of her Aunt Jane’s strongest character traits. I would love someone to reproduce in facsimile her Garden Book which she kept while she lived in Chawton.

I would urge all of you to buy this book, because the story of these sisters and their lives in England and most of all 19th century Ireland is  so vibrantly presented to us by Sophia Hillan. I’ve read it twice now- the second time to savour all teh twists and turns of  the fascinating tale. It is available as a Kindle edition if you are running out of books space, or prefer e-books. I am certain you will not be disappointed by this wonderfully written book.

During my holiday  a few items related to Jane Austen and Fashion have been brought to my attention, and I thought you might like to share them. Here goes…

First , Andrea Galer continues to sell some of her Austen adaptation costumes from her very stylish site, which is now linked from Austen only in the links section to the left of this page. Currently on sale ( in addition to Matthew MacFaddeyns waistcoat from the BBC adaptation of Trollope’s novel, The Way We Live Now) is this Spencer which was worn by Rosamund Stephen in ITVs adaption of Persuasion (2007). She played Henrietta Musgrove in the film.

Also for sale is this outfit worn by the marvellous Oliva Williams who portrayed Jane Austen in the BBC’s bio of Jane Austen’s last few months in Miss Austen Regrets.

The outfit consists of the dress, blouse and spencer, all which were worn in the programme. Now wearing that outfit would certainly be a talking point at the next Bath Festival Promenade, don’t you think?

Next, Winchester Fashion Week is fast approaching, and they have a new blog  to keep everyone informed of events and developments. Jane Austen had, of course, many associations with Winchester, and the blog has a new post which discusses her links with the city and  her interest in fashion.

If you go here you can read this interesting article written by Alys Key “Sense, Sensibility and Style:Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen. This post includes an interview with Louise West, the Curator of the Jane Austen House Museum. I think you will all find it a fascinating read.

Hello ! and belated Easter, Passover or General Spring and Chocolate Eating Festival Greetings from me. I’m sorry for my recent absence but I’m back refreshed and ready to share more Austen related news with you. Let’s get on, shall we….

You may recall that Montacute House near Yeovil in Somerset, above, was used as a location in Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility. It is a beautiful Elizabethan house, built in the latter part of the 16th century for the rich lawyer, Sir Edward Phelips. It is now in the care of the National Trust. In the 1995 film it was used as the location for Cleveland, the country estate of the Palmers, and was, of course, the place where Marianne Dashwood became dreadfully ill with a putrid fever after catching a cold, wandering around the grounds past the “brain ” hedge,  as Ang Lee described this marvellous yew hedge in the grounds, below.

.

Andrew May who writes the lovely Lyme Regis Musuem blog, has just informed me that he is helping out with the new blog for Montacute house., and I thought you would all be interested to see it and perhaps follow it. Go here to see it.

I freely confess, I love to hear ‘back stage’ stories from country houses which are open to the public, so this  blog is a real treat to read. The blog is packed with interesting information about the day to day running of the house, and its grounds and contents.

For example, the blog has recently published  a series of fascinating posts about a portrait of James I by John de Critz. This portrait  has been purchased by the Trust for the house, which is highly appropriate as it was its original home. It was believed to have been given by the King to Edward Phelips. The posts are fascinating, especially those that deal with the respiration which was undertaken after the portraits purchase, and I’m sure that Jane Austen as a fervent supporter of the Stuarts would approve ;)

The National Trust has realised, I think, that visitors to these houses like to glean a lot of information about them and that more informal methods of communicating- via websites or blogs – can not only spread the word but can also foster a community of supporters for individual properties. It is not possible to have backstage tours at  many of their houses, or to allow physical visitors to see everything that goes on. Sharing news and information with virtual visitors via these blogs and the newly-designed web pages for each property is  a low-impact but very effective way of allowing us to feel involved and in touch with the developments at these fascinating places. Monatcute is one of my favourites ( for, as you know, I am rather partial to Elizabethan and Jacobean houses) and I’m so glad I can keep  “in touch”  with it  and its doings in this way. I think it is an initiative that should be applauded and I hope it spreads to my other favourite properties. A blog can be hard work and time consuming but it is a wonderful means of communicating, and allows visitors who cannot always physically be there- for many reasons- the opportunity to feel involved and relevant. Which can only be good news for the Trust and its properties in in the long-term. Bravo.

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