You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2012.
As we edge ever nearer to the celebrations for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I thought you might like to read about a Jubilee that Jane Austen experienced. I’m in the middle of preparations for my family’s celebrations this weekend, so instead of a few posts, published over a few days I thought you wouldn’t object to me posting one long post about the topic.
The celebrations for George III’s Golden Jubilee became the template for all our other jubilees, and it is interesting to see just how similar our experiences are. George III’s jubilee was the first time since James I’s reign that a Jubilee had been celebrated. The Jubilee has religious origins, and the celebrations are based on this passage from the Bible:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
King George came to the throne on 25th October 1760. Not many English monarchs had celebrated 50 years on the throne, and we have no records of how theKings up to this date- Henry III, Edward III and James I had celebrated this rare event. George III’s celebrations appear to be the first to be celebrated on a nation-wide basis, and set a pattern that has been followed in British Jubilee celebrations ever since. We know a lot about the early 19th century celebrations because they are recorded, in greater detail, in a book:
This is a fascinating volume and was reprinted in a second edition in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, giving those who wanted to organise celebratory events then a good idea of what had gone on 70 years before. Go here to read it on Google Books. The Entry for Basingstoke in Hampshire is interesting. It gives a glimpse of what was going on in that area on the 25th Octiber, and many of the name s mentioned will be familiar to you:
Not less than one thousand persons (comprehending the indigent of both sexes and all ages) were liberally treated with an amplitude of wholesome viands, accompanied with ten hogsheads of strong beer, at Lord Bolton’s seat at Hackwood . Mr Chute, COl Jervoise,Mr Wither, Mr Blackburn, Mr Harwood and other neighbouring gentlemen,emulated each other on the joyful occasion, in similar acts of liberality. The day was introduced by a ball and cold collation on the preceding night,at which all the neighbouring gentry were present. The religious service of the day was attended by The Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Cavalry and Basingstoke Infantry; when an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Russell Curate of Basingstoke; a liberal subscription was raised for the indigent ands the day concluded with a public dinner, at the Town Hall, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Corps and many of the neighbouring gentlemen,where the utmost harmony and festivity prevailed to a late hour.
But for Jane Austen it appears to have been rather a quiet day. Not, I hasten to add, that we know much about what she did or thought of the celebrations for, as she and Cassandra were together, there would be no reason for her to record her thoughts in a letter and no pocket book survives. However, we do know that on the 24th October 1809, the day before the date for the official celebrations of George III’s Jubilee, Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife (he was Jane Austen’s eldest brother and had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon) attended a Golden Jubilee ball at Basingstoke.
Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky brother who was adopted by the wealthy Knights, was in Chawton, at the cottage with Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. Fanny Knight, his eldest daughter, made this entry in her pocket-book for the 25th October, which was the day the Jubilee was officially celebrated:
Papa came back to breakfast & brought not a very good account of George. The Jubilee on act. of the dear old King’s 50th accession day. No very grand doings here.We all dined with Mrs F. A.(Frank Austen’s wife-jfw) except G.M. & Charles. I spent the morng. there whilst Papa, Aunts C and Jane called at Froyle.
So, at Chawton, not much was going on. Edward Knight had a tenant, Mr Middleton, who was in residence at Chawton House and so Edward could not host any land-lordly festivities there. Unlike at Steventon, where the Digweeds, the local squires, gave a dinner for the poor of the parish,which was held in their barn on their estate.
So…what was going on in the rest of the country. At Windsor the Royal Family attended a service of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel: you can see the roof of the chapel to the right of the round tower in my print, below:
George III was blind and ill at this stage in his life, and was anxious about the health of his daughter Princess Amelia. She was taken seriously ill on the day of the Jubilee celebrations( the 25th October )and died on the 2nd November 1809. At Batchelor’s Acre at Windsor a giant ox and some mutton were begin roasted for the benefit of the poor, but in the morning of the 25th October Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family arrived at 10.30 a.m to taste the beef:
Should any player spin a number on which there is already a marker, he must take its place and the other must move one forward.
Any player taking more than his due, must go back as many numbers as he took. If he take too few, and the next player have spun, he must remain where he was.
Persons going backward in the game are exempted from the fines attached to the figures on which they be obliged to rest.
In a dress-down Friday moment, I thought you might like to hear my thoughts on Jane Austen’s latest film appearance….in Aardman Animations latest feature-length film, Pirates: an Adventure with Scientists.
The film is based on the children’s books by Gideon Defoe, and is silly, daft and…jolly good fun. The books are Douglas Adams-y in tone, and revolve around the hapless goings-on of The Private Captain and his crew. The crew are a rum bunch and are never individually named. They are merely referred to as The Albino Pirate, The Pirate with Gout, The Pirate with a Scarf and …The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (And yes, no one guesses she really is a girl…the beard no doubt helps her in her disguise-see below)
The Pirate captain is dim and ineffective, and the story revolves around his Parrot ( really a Dodo-see below) his quest to be Pirate of the Year, the crew’s love of ham, Charles Darwin( Yes, the Charles Darwin) and his monkey, Mr Bobo and ….Queen Victoria. Its all rather silly and yet rather magnificent at the same time.
Jane Austen appears, totally anachronistically, for the film is set in 1837, in a tavern scene, ( Tavern scene!) and it is a fleeting appearance so if you do go to see the film, keep an eye out for her. I won’t give away the joke, save to say it involved the Pirate Captain and the Elephant Man.
The cast is tremendous. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain beautifully and David Tennant is poor Charles Darwin. As is typical of Aardman animations, there is a lot going on around the main action and visual jokes abound. I thoroughly enjoyed this silly, funny film. Despise me if you dare.
Here’s the trailer to tempt you:
Some of you may recall that last July I was lucky enough to be able to attend Heritage Opera’s premiere performance of Mansfield Park, the Opera written by Jonathan Dove with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton at Boughton House in Northamptonshire.
Last week the opera had two performances at the Royal Academy of Music by students attending the academy. Their website has an extract from the Times review of the 21st May:
‘…in John Ramster’s pacey, elegant staging, a fine cast of Royal Academy of Music students proved that this opera can fizz as charmingly in a small theatre as in a Regency ballroom… Who would have thought this line ”this gate is locked” could carry such a torrent of sexual frustration as Tereza Gevorgyan‘s Maria invested in it! Excellent performances, too, from Rupert Charlesworth, mincing like an upmarket rent-boy as Rushworth, Aoife Miskelly as brilliant, brittle, amoral Mary Crawford, and Rachel Kelly as steadfast Fanny. With Lionel Friend conducting there were no weak links. Let’s hope for a swift revival.’
Sadly, I was unable to attend either performance, but I thought you might like to see some more photographs of the event, here, and read another review by David Karlin on Bachtrack.com
I am so pleased that this ingenious opera is getting more performances. I’d love to see it performed at Chawton House which would be a perfect setting. One day, perhaps….
Well, to the interiors of Pemberley as seen in the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice ;)
My dear Twitter friend Adrian Tinniswood tells me that Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, which is owned by the National Trust, is today giving a tour of the house with emphasis on its Pride and Prejudice theme. They will be holding another group tour on this theme on the 30th June. Places are strictly limited, so if you want to book then do telephone the Hall on 01283 585337.
I’ve written about the interiors of Sudbury before, here, here and here…and so I know that on the tour you will see the elegant white and gold Salon where Darcy and Elizabeth had their rapprochement …
The Stair Case Hall where Mrs Gardiner began to understand that Wickham was not quite the thing
The Long Gallery where Elizabeth pondered the portrait of Darcy
and Mr Darcy’s bedroom itself!
Today we complete our detailed look at an example of an 18th century Ladies Pocketbook, which we began in our last post.
What might potentially be the most interesting part of the pocketbook, – Fifty-two double Pages rules for Memorandums etc, in effect, the diary entries- is sadly missing in this example. (FX: Grinding teeth)
But what remains have is interesting, throwing a light on the frivolities and practicalities of life from a middling sort lady in the late 18th century.
First, Hints to Unmarried Ladies (Do remember you can enlarge all the photographs in this post in order to see the detail of the individual pages)
This is a conduct book warning regarding proprietary in the midst of all this practicality. This little essay is particularly florid in tone:
What is so analogous to the dangers of walking through burning plough-shares, in the fiery ordeal predicted by our ancestors, as the strong temptations the ladies are exposed to from the warm addresses of the gentlemen ….
Next, continuing the conduct book theme, An Essay on Modesty…
How many have been undone because they have not had impudence enough to deny the request of a profest friend?
Followed by An Ode to Health
A little warning about losing one’s bloom, something that Anne Elliot could write a heartfelt essay upon….Then, just in case one wanted to do something to rekindle one’s bloom, a very helpful Account of the Mineral Waters in England and Wales and the Amusements at the Watering Places
Next, Favourite New Songs Sung at Vauxhall Ranelagh and the other pubik places in 1777
The first The Nod, Wink and Smile sung by Mr Vernon at Vauxhall.
This section is a sort of Top Ten hits of the day. I find them fascinating, and I was very glad to be able to send copies of these to David Coke to add to his collection of songs sung at Vauxhall Gardens. More on his Vauxhall Exhibit at the Foundling Hospital Museum soon. Then, in keeping with the pleasure themes we have instructions for the New Country Dances for the year 1778
And finally…back to earth with A New Marketing Table
and A Table of Expences
and finally in this section, A Table of Interest, to help you with your calculations:
And just in case you are worried about social niceties, the Table of Precedency among Ladies
Sadly, the Chairmen and Watermen’s rates are missing from my little pocket-book, but that would have been essential information when visiting London, if you didn’t want to be taken advantage of by either promoters of both types of transport. And that ends this look at what was thought to be useful information for a woman of the late 18th century. I do hope you have found it interesting.
As the entries made in their pocket-books by two Austen ladies have been the theme of this week, I thought you might like to have a closer look at one I have in my collection First, a warning- it is in a very poor state and has many missing pages, but what is left is interesting, (well, I consider so) and I’m sure some of you will appreciate the opportunity to see just what these items were like.
They were usually covered in red leather, and this example is just over 3 inches deep by 4 inches wide.
As you can see, mine, which dates from 1778, is not in pristine condition.
The folding top flap has the remains of a marbled paper lining, which you can just discern in the photograph above’
The first two pages are fashion plates, to enable a lady in the shires to see exactly were the latest fashions worn at court. Do note you can enlarge all these photographs by clicking on them, and I do recommend you do so , in order to see the details of the pocket-book pages:
The first shows “A Lady in Full Dress and Another in an Undress of 1777. The next plate show the sumptuous scene at The Windsor Ball:
The ladies who dominate the print are , from left to right, Lady Barrymore, The Duchess of Devonshire and the Duchess of Gloucester
These fashion plates were an important part of the contents of the Pocket Books for Ladies, and if you look at this page from Barbara Johnson’s Book, which has been produced in facsimile by the Victoria and Albert Museum, in whose collection it is, under the title: A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics:
you will see that Miss Johnson, a contemporary of Jane Austen, kept, year on year, these little prints all pasted in her album so that she could keep track of the latest fashions. She was surely not alone….Next we have the contents page:
and you can see, for the first time, that while this has much in common with our diaries of today- with useful information -notable dates etc, – there are striking differences.
For example, the insertion of Hints to Unmarried Ladies and the Essay on Modesty, strikes an odd note. It is interesting to me that such conduct book fodder is to be found in this very practical diary. But before we examine those pages in detail in our next post, let’s go back to the beginning of the pocket-book.
After the Introduction,which, you can see, is simply an advertising “puff” telling the purchaser just how useful this little book will prove to be (!), we have the Holidays to be observed in 1778 at the Exchequer, Bank, Stamp Office, Excise Office, East India House, South Sea House and Custom House. We may be astonished at the sheer amount of days upon which these important institutions were closed. Today in England and Wales there are six Bank Holidays plus two pubic holidays- Christmas Day and Good Friday. as you can see, in the late 18th century , these institutions observed saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays.
There are 53 days,by my reckoning, when the offices of most of these institutions would be closed, subject to the individual exceptions shown under the table. Again you can see that they are mostly religious holidays. This situation continued during Jane Austen’s life time but, in 1834, this was reduced to just four holidays: 1 May , 1 November (All Saints Day), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.
Next we have a Table of the Moon for 1778, and a note of all the Legal Terms, when the courts were in session, plus details of the terms at the only two universities in England and Wales at that time, Oxford and Cambridge:
Next, history: A Table of the King and Queens Reigns, plus on the opposite page The Birth Days of the Sovereigns in Europe
Next we have An Index to the Remarkable Days in 1778
These are dominated by dates in the Christian Calendar, together with dates relating to the Royal Family, which underlines the importance of the Anglican Church, and the Royal Family in Georgian England. These dates do still form the basis of the rhythm of the year for many people today, but I think I might be right that they are of a general lesser importance now than they had in the late 18th century . It is interesting to see just how many dates were celebrated, and which ones were thought important.
In my next post we shall continue our look at the contents of these intriguing little books. I do hope you will join me.
Two hundred years ago last Friday, the 11th May, Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minster, shown below, was shot in the Lobby of the House of Commons.
He was killed by John Bellingham, shown below.
He was, thus far, the only British Prime minister to have been assassinated. The assassination came at a time that has so many parallels with our dire economic situation today. Britain was suffering from a credit crunch and was in a recession, one of the causes of which was the effects of the infamous Orders in Council issued by Perceval’s government in 1809, which expanded the Orders in Council of 1807 that had been brought in by the previous Portland administration, and were designed to restrict the trade of neutral countries with France. These had been enacted in retaliation to Napoleon’s embargo on trade by Britain with all allies of France. Controversially, the Orders gave the British Navy the right to board all neutral ships in search of goods destined for France. Exports sharply declined with the result that ports such as Liverpool, dependant on trade with Russia and the United States, had their trade severely reduced: legitimate trade dwindled.
John Bellingham was a merchant from Liverpool who had become involved in the Baltic trade, trading with Russia. He was imprisoned in the Russian port of Arkangel for a fraud he claimed did not commit. As a result , he lost a sum that would amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds today. He appealed for help to the British ambassador in St Petersburg, who passed the case on to the consul, who did little to help Bellingham. When eventually released and back in Britain, Bellingham regarded the government as morally bound to indemnify him for his losses for his dependant family’s financial future depended upon him recovering all he had lost. He was married and had 12 children.
Bellingham believed every man in Britain had the right to petition Parliament to bring attention to grievances, and wanted to petition Parliament about compensation for his losses. Perceval insisted that the government had no obligation to recompense him, and refused to receive his petition. Bellingham reasoned that the only remaining chance of a remedy was to kill the prime minister. He claimed that he had no personal grudge against Perceval, but considered that to kill the Prime Minister would be a simple act of justice and would be the means of bringing his claim to court. He sincerely held the belief that once he explained the reasons for his action at his trial, he would be acquitted and his losses would be repaid by the Government. This defence, which his lawyers insisted was the workings of a deranged mind, cut no ice and, indeed Bellingham insisted he was sane. Bellingham was tried four days after Perceval died and was hung a week after the assassination.
What I find fascinating in all this, are not only the parallels with today’s economic situation, but the reaction to the assassination of Jane Austen’s sister-in -law, Mary Austen, neé Lloyd, who was married to James Austen. She recorded her thoughts in her pocket-book, which is now in the collection of the Hampshire Record Office . This, below, is a silhouette of Mary, who was Jane Austen’s eldest brother’s second wife:
Pocket books were small red leather covered booklets which contained standardised useful information- much more on this in my next post-and a section for diary entries, and were used by many people in the early 19th century .They were rather like the small diaries we carry about today- if we don’t rely upon electronic means to keep track of our engagements. Indeed, Jane Austen kept one, and one page of it, detailing her expenses in 1807, survives in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Go here to read more about it. If only the other interesting pages of Jane Austen’s pocket books could be found…..
Back to Mary Austen. Most of Mary’s pocket-book entries are concerned with day-to-day life at the Steventon, where her husband, James was rector. And in themselves these domestic entries are fascinating, giving us some glimpses of their life at home, detailing visits made , visitors received. The entries have been transcribed by Deirdre le Faye into her fantastic book, The Chronology of Jane Austen, and so if you cannot visit the Hampshire Record Office to see the real thing, you can read its interesting entries by purchasing a copy of this book. This picture of the entry in Mary Austen’s pocket-book concerning Jane Austen’s death on 17th July, 1817 comes from the Chronology:
It translates as:
Jane Austen was taken for death about 1/2 past 5 in the evening
I like to compare Mary’s sometimes terse entries with those of Fanny Knight’s entries for the same day,especially when they are in the same company. For example in her entry for May 4th 1812, Fanny writes:
Sweet Day.We all went to The Vine a beautiful old place of Mr Chute’s & spent the morning in going all over the House & Grounds. Mr Trimmer brought me a letter from At.Cass.
Mary,who was used to intercourse with the Chutes at the Vyne simply wrote:
We all went to the Vine.
So, it really was with some surprise that I noticed that Mary had included a note on the Perceval assassination in her pocketbook:
Mr Perceval was shot as he entered the house of Commons, he was the prime minister.
And , further, that this entry was actually made on the 11th May 1812, the very day the murder had taken place. This is, as far as I can see, the only political event Mary Austen ever comments upon in her pocket-book. What does that tell us? That the event was so momentous that even in sleepy Steventon the news had travelled from London the same day.Well, yes. But I think it might also tell us something about Mary and her view of politics. It sounds as if she is recording Perceval’s status (He was the prime minister)almost as if that information was news to her. Perhaps I am doing her an injustice, but it does seems if she is writing a note to herself to explain who exactly had been killed and what his status was.
Respectable Georgian women were not, of course, supposed to entertain political ideas. It was somewhat surprising therefore to find Mary Austen including this item of news, having become aware of it the day it happened, in her pocketbook which was otherwise full of rather more mundane matters.I thought you might be interested to note that this terrible event was in some way, important to Mary Austen living in Steventon in 1812.
This delightful object was featured on a recent edition of BBC One’s programme, Bargain Hunt.
It comes from the collection of the Grey family who lived at Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire, shown below. The property is now in the care of the National Trust.
As you can see it, the decoration on the tea caddy is made of filigree work – which can be known as rolled paper work or quill work. I’ve written about it before, here, as it was of course mentioned by Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility: Lucy Steele, attempting to curry favour with the Middletons, in particular with Lady Middleton, creates a filigree work basket for the Middleton’s spoilt daughter, Annamaria:
“Perhaps,” continued Elinor, “if I should happen to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Lucy Steele, in rolling her papers for her; and there is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible, I think, for her labour singly, to finish it this evening. I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share in it.”
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 23
The structure of the tea caddy is made from wood, and has internal compartments for two different types of tea:
But it is the outside decoration which is so stunning. The decoration on the lid of the caddy has sadly faded as it has been kept in sunlight:
You can see that only the slightest trace of colour remains in the rolled paper pieces:
However the side panels , which have escaped the ruinous effects of the sun, are a different matter. You can see from this series of photographs how very beautiful the decoration is. Do note that the individual side panels are differently decorated : one incorporates a print or engraving…
and some include pieces of mica, set behind some of the quilled decoration. Mica is a mineral known as sheet silicate which gives a very shiny effect. The term “mica” is derived from the Latin word mica, probably and very appropriately derived from the verb by micare, which means “to glitter”.
You can also see that some of the quills were made from gold, foiled papers.
If you would like to see this object on the programme you can do so by accessing it here via the BBCs iPlayer for the next five days. You will need to access the programme at 20 minutes in, in order to see the item about Nunnington Halk. Sadly this is not, I fear, available to any of you resident outside the UK.
However, in spite of that restriction, I thought you might like to see another example of the type of work with which Lucy Steel was attempting to ingratiate herself into the Middleton household :)
Jane Austen lived at Number 4 Sydney Place in Bath from the summer of 1801 until the summer of 1804, together with her parents, the Reverend George and Mrs. Austen, and Cassandra, her elder sister. I’ve written about it in the past and you can access those posts here and here.
It was then on the outskirts of Bath and was near to the Sydney Gardens where Jane enjoyed visiting the pleasure gardens, though she was not always too keen on the music performed there, as evidenced by this comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799 ;)
There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
The garden to a house a few doors down from Number 4 is open to the public to visit on Saturday 19th may and again on the 1st July. So if you can manage to go you will get an idea of the type of garden the Austens would have enjoyed while they lived at Number 4, and also get a view of the rear of number 4 in the bargain.
The garden is opened to benefit a local charity, The Dorothy House Hospice Care, and all the details of how to ge to the garden plus opening times and price of entry can be accessed here. I do wish I could attend!
I thought you all might appreciate a post on the latest developments regarding the disputed portrait of Jane Austen now owned by Dr. Paula Byrne.
Recently there has been flurry of activity surrounding it, mostly published in the Times Literary Supplement.
The first article was by Paul Byrne, and this reiterated, in the main, the arguments she made for positively identifying the portrait as Jane Austen, and having been taken from life, in her BBC 2 programme, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait. However, there are a few new points and you might like to hear them. Dr Byrne has been investigating the view shown on the portrait and seems to have positively identified it as the view of Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Bridge, which could be seen from one specific place: No.3 The Sanctuary. This house was occupied, in the early 19th century, by Edward Smedley, an Anglican priest who was also senior usher at Westminster School. Dr.Byrne writes:
He was a man with literary interests, whose published poems included Transmigration (1778) and Erin: A geographical and descriptive poem (1810). He was married to Hannah (1754-1825), the daughter of George Bellas, a gentleman who worked as public notary in the High Court of Admiralty, which dealt with all shipping disputes, and who owned estates in the parish of Farnham on the border of Hampshire and Surrey. Their eldest son, also called Edward Smedley (1788-1836), had serious literary aspirations. He won the Seatonian Prize for English Verse at Cambridge in 1813 and from 1814 onwards he published with John Murray of Albemarle Street. His works with Jane Austen’s publisher ranged from The Death of Saul and Jonathan, a Poem (1814) and The Parson’s Choice, or, Town and Country: An Epistle (1821) to Sketches from Venetian History (1831).
Edward Smedley Junior therefore had the same publisher as Jane Austen, John Murray, and a slight family connection (see below). However, he also appears to have been a fan of Jane Austen’s works from the evidence of his published correspondence:
Pious, antiquarian and serious-minded, the Smedleys seem a far cry from Jane Austen. So it comes as something of a surprise to discover in “Poems by the late Rev. Edward Smedley, A.M.: with a selection from his correspondence and a memoir of his life “(1837) that Smedley Junior was an avid reader of her novels
In addition Dr Byrne notes that a daughter of Anna Austen, Louisa, married the Reverend Septimus Bellas of Monk Sherborne in Hampshire, who was “a collateral relative of George Bellas”
Dr Byrne poses the question: do we know exactly what Jane Austen did when she was in London negotiating the terms for the publication of Emma? She poses the theory that Jane Austen may have known the Smedleys and may have visited them at No 3 ,The Sanctuary,where the portrait was made , and where it probably stayed in the Smedley family for some time, most probably in an album of drawings as there appears to be evidence of old glue on the reverse of the portrait. Smedley Junior had two daughters, who grew up to be novelists and Dr Byrne considers they were even influenced by Jane Austen:
They both grew up to become novelists strongly influenced by Jane Austen. Menella’s The Maiden Aunt (1849) begins in a very familiar-sounding style – “Emma, the youngest sister of Margaret Forde, married James Ferrars, a captain in the navy, and was left a widow, with two children” – while Elizabeth Anna’s The Runaway (1872) is manifestly a rewriting of Emma (with a mildly lesbian twist). Its publication was welcomed by the Sun newspaper with the announcement that “The future before her as a novelist is that of becoming the Miss Austin of her generation”.
One lead might be interesting, regarding the provenance of the portrait. It was sold to Mr Davids by the executrix of Sir John Forster, Barrister. The executrix, on his instructions, burnt all his papers when she had finished administering his estate. However, Paula Byrne has discovered that it was given to him by his nanny, Miss Helen Carruthers and she is investigating if there are any links between Miss Carruthers and the Smedley daughters. If anyone reading this can help her, please contact me and I’ll gladly send on any information.
She concluded thus:
Until we find another writer who was middle-aged in about 1815, who had a taste for long sleeves and a cap, who was tall and spare, straightbacked, with dark curly hair and facial features bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jane Austen’s brothers, we must keep open the possibility that this truly is a lifetime portrait of the woman who signed her own name on the back of John Murray’s royalty cheque for Emma as “Miss Jane Austin”.
This article prompted two letters to the Editor. The first was from Roy Davids, the dealer who sold the portrait at auction to Dr Byrne , and was published in the TLS on the 20th April, 2012. In his letter he defended his catalogue description of the portrait,thus:
Dr Byrne not entirely accurately had me cowering before the formidable Deirdre Le Faye (given the correspondence with that doyenne of the Austen industry which I shared with her). Vendors, it should be said, have an obligation towards a sobriety of tone, balance and judgement that need not constrain an enthusiastic new owner in quite the same way. But, of more consequence, Byrne tends to minimize what was said in the catalogue, which at least hinted at some of her more significant discoveries, when she writes: “Deterred by Le Faye, Davids did no further work on the portrait and it was accordingly given a low estimate in a sale of his literary manuscripts and portraits at Bonham’s in March 2011, where I bought it. The sale catalogue reproduced Le Faye’s opinion, but also noted that Henry Austen’s ‘Biographical Notice’ (1818) of his late sister did not include any specific details of her appearance, so it would have seemed an unlikely source for a portrait”.
A week later another letter was published from Professor Richard Jenkyns ,who is, in fact, a descendant of Jane Austen’s eldest brother, James. He doubts that the portrait is of Jane Austen. His first objection is the setting:
Dr Byrne treats the picture like a photograph – as though Jane Austen had visited an unattested friend who chanced to live due west of the Abbey and someone snapped her there. But of course portraits were not like that; the backgrounds signify. The sitter is a Londoner: she is at home with her cat beside her. No one would take a likeness of a person with somebody else’s cat. She may have been wife, daughter or sister of a Rector of St Margaret’s or a Dean or Canon of Westminster, or perhaps a literary lady who wrote about Westminster. It seems improbable that this is a view from the window of someone who happened to live at just this spot, because the setting is not naturalistic: note the theatrical column and curtain. The artist could have sketched the churches on site but more likely used an engraving.
He also pointed out that the lady portrayed in the portrait is shown as having light-coloured eyes:
Jane Austen’s eyes were shown as brown in Cassandra Austen’s sketch-the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face- that is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery:
She was described as having had hazel eyes by people who know her in life, particularly Caroline Austen, her niece. He also disputes that the nose depicted in the “Austin” portrait is an example of The Austen Nose.
The same point about the colour of the “Austin’s ” lady’s eyes is made in the Spring 2012 JASNA newsletter. Dr Andrew Norman who has written a biography of Jane Austen (Jane Austen, An Unrequited Love) wrote to the editor to make the same point about the colour of the sitters eyes: that these are pale and Jane Austen had dark coloured eyes.
On the 4th May, Dierdre Le Faye published her thoughts on the drawing. Amongst other points, she doubts that Jane Austen would have wanted to be depicted as a writer, a point that has also been made by Claire Tomalin. She points to the lack of books in the portrait: if Jane Austen and wanted to be shown as a proudly, published author, where are her books? She also dismissed the face depicted as being of the real Jane Austen: it is too thin and long , and the eyes are of the wrong hue.
As to the dating of the portrait by the fashionable clothes on show, Le Faye points out that Jane and Cassandra Austen were constantly altering and updating their clothes due to their limited income:
The sitter’s high neck and long sleeves, with copious lace trimmings, suggest rich respectability. is clear from Jane’s letters that as she and Cassandra were far from wealthy, they were constantly altering their dresses by unpicking and dyeing them and adding different trimmings, until finally demoting them to be used as petticoats or linings. No dresses of theirs could ever be precisely dated.
She also comments on the profusion of jewellery on show:
The amount of jewellery worn by the sitter is far more than Jane Austen is known to have possessed…Even if Jane had possessed all these items – and surely her brother Charles’s present of a topaz cross would have been shown? – it would be thoroughly uncomfortable to wear four rings while writing. This strongly suggests that the portrait was only meant to be symbolic, emphasizing the wealth of the sitter.
Here you can see the necklaces, numbering three in my counting:
And here you can see the profusion of rings:
She also dismisses the view of Westminster as having any connection with Jane Austen, and thinks the links with the Smedley family are only circumstantial. She also notes the lack of any documentary evidence connecting Sir John Forster’s nanny with the portrait. The inscription “Miss Jane Austin” on the reverse of the portrait is commented upon:
The title on the verso, “Miss Jane Austin”, also turns out to be a red herring. As it is in ink, it was added at a later date – otherwise, the artist would have written the name in plumbago as s/he finished the drawing. Secondly, the word “Miss” is written in modern style; had it been written in Regency times the ligature of “MiFs” would have been used. Austen’s eldest nephew and nieces, who were taught to write between about 1795 and 1815, all used this ligature for a double “s” till their dying days in the 1870s and 80s. Anyone writing “Miss” was obviously born much later in the nineteenth century.
Here is an example in Jane Austen’s own handwriting, which demonstrates how the word “Miss “would have been written by any contemporary of her:
This is a copy of the later she wrote to her sister Cassandra on the 20th February 1807. You can clearly see that she addressed Cassandra as “MiFs” Austen. The use of the word “Miss” in this form is clear evidence that this inscription was added much later in the 19th century than in 1816.
As Byrne has not provided any incontrovertible documentary evidence to support her claims, the portrait, even if it does date from the early nineteenth century, cannot be accepted as a genuine representation of Jane Austen.
So..there you are. The controversy continues.
What do I make of it all?
I went to see the portrait recently, for it is currently on show at Jane Austen’s House Museum. What struck me on viewing it was indeed the large amount of jewellery that adorned the sitter. If this really is Jane Austen, where is that jewellery now? And why wasn’t Charles Austen’s quite magnificent topaz cross included, for this must have been Jane Austen’s most grand piece of personal jewellery, and if she was “showing herself to her best advantage” would she not have included that piece ? I do think on close examination that there is some form of pendant hanging from the first, shortest necklace. It is not clear, however, what form that pendant takes, and it may be another brooch, not attached to the chain at all.
The provenance of the portrait is still very uncertain, and seems to end in the 1980s with the death of Sir John Forster. I am still not convinced that the view,which is very carefully delineated, has any connection with Jane Austen.
The presence of the cat still make no sense to me at all in relation to Jane Austen.
I still feel that this is, at the very best, a portrait of a real life Miss Austin, who had links with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s, which was made in the early years of the 19th century, but that it is not our Jane Austen. The attribution on the frame, which was made much later, seems to me to have been a case of wishful thinking by a later owner and, until there is any other strong documentary evidence to prove otherwise, I remain unconvinced ( not that my opinion really matters!)
If you would like to see it yourself, then do go to the Museum to see it: I do urge you to go if you can for it is interesting to see it “in the flesh”. I hadn’t realised how prominent the cat was. It certainly cannot be glossed over as it is an important part of the composition. But what does a cat have to do with Jane Austen? And will we ever find the answer? Fascinating.
I thought you all would appreciate knowing that this is accessible, free of charge for a short time only, according to a new blog post at the Oxford University Press’s blog. If you access the blog post here, you will find an interesting taster of the essay written by Professor Sutherland
Her essay is entitled Jane Austen’s Dealing with John Murray and his Firm and this is published in the latest edition of the journal, The Review of English Studies. It was originally delivered by Professor Sutherland as the John Murray Lecture on the 27th October 2011 at the National Library of Scotland. I’ve only had time to skim it this afternoon, but it looks fascinating. I’m sure it is going to provoke some discussion. Go to it!