During Austen’s era, fashion leaders looked to the past for inspiration. Anything that resembled ancient Rome or Greece was bound to be popular, from sandals and nymph like gowns, to short hair cuts for ladies, like the Titus or Brutus.
One accessory that remained popular from the late 1700’s through mid 1800’s, was the bandeau (plural=bandeaux). The name comes from the French word for “strip” and involved wrapping ribbon, pearls or a length of fabric though one’s hairstyle, or around one’s head (sometimes even the forehead). The result was often styled “à la Grecque”, no doubt heightening it’s appeal all the more.
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are….They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
-Pride and Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley notes “netting”as one of the common accomplishments of young ladies. It is, as Isabella Beeton, Victorian Household Maven, explains, “one of the prettiest and one of the easiest accomplishments of a lady. The materials are simple, while the effects produced by good netting are most elegant and of great durability. One great advantage of netting is that each stitch is finished and independent of the next, so that if an accident happens to one stitch it does not, as in crochet or knitting, spoil the whole work.” The following instructions are from Beeton’s Book of Needlwork, published in 1870.
When I had reached my eighteenth Year, I was recalled by my Parents to my paternal roof in Wales. Our mansion was situated in one of the most romantic parts of the Vale of Uske. Tho’ my Charms are now considerably softened and somewhat impaired by the Misfortunes I have undergone, I was once beautiful. But lovely as I was, the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress. When in the Convent, my progress had always exceeded my instructions, my Acquirements had been wonderfull for my age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
Love and Freindship
The Game of Graces was a popular activity for young girls during the early 1800s. The game was invented in France during the first quarter of the 19th century and called there le jeu des Graces. The Game of Graces was considered a proper game benefiting young ladies and, supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys, and never played by two boys at the same time, either two girls, or a boy and a girl.
In 1838, Lydia Marie Child (American abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author of such works as Hobomok and A Boy’s Thanksgiving, which begins, “Over the River and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”) published The Girl’s Own Book, a volume full of entertainments for girls of all ages. In it, she describes the game of Graces, thus:
This is a new game, common in Germany, but introduced to this country from France. It derives its name from the graceful attitudes which it occasions. Two sticks are held in the hands, across each other, like open scissors: the object is to throw and catch a small hoop upon these sticks. The hoop to be bound with silk, or ribbon, according to fancy.
The game is played by two persons. The sticks are held straight, about four inches apart, when trying to catch the hoop; and when the hoop is thrown, they are crossed like a pair of scissors. In this country it is called The Graces or The Flying Circle. Continue reading The Game of Graces
She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mr Woodhouse’s kindness, felt his particular claim on her to leave her neat parlour, hung round with fancy-work, whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside. Emma If you watch movie re-makes of Jane Austen’s novels you could be forgiven for thinking that sewing and craft was this strange, irrelevant activity performed by Regency women. In one movie Jane and Cassandra Austen are sequestered in a dark room while Jane wrestles an incredibly small piece of fabric – its not quite clear what she is doing with the needle. In another the actress appears not to know what to do with a needle and thread, she tosses the fabric around and around until the end of the scene where she may just possibly start to embroider. In a world where most western women engage in sewing and other crafty activities for enjoyment, it is very easy to forget the importance of sewing to Jane Austen and her Regency women. It really was very much “women’s work” – both plain and fancy work formed such a large part of any Georgian woman’s duties that she was said to “be at work” when sewing. “My dear Catherine…. your head runs too much upon Bath, but there is a time for everything – a time (more…)
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.” “All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?” “Yes all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.” Pride and Prejudice If you are familiar with the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, you may have wondered what the Bennet sisters were doing with a number of pieces of rolled paper spread over the table in one scene. One genteel pastime for young ladies in the late 18th and the first part of the 19th century was decorating objects with rolled paper. Undecorated wooden frames were often sold for this purpose. Ladies then decorated the object with pieces of paper rolled and cut into different patterns. After being rolled up, the papers were cut in short lengths and glued to the wooden frame in a filigree pattern. The project might be finished by painting and gilding. Sometimes a focal point was created using a watercolour or print. Objects decorated in this way might include mirror frames, jewel boxes, tea caddies, and even a screen. Similar results to rolled paper crafting can be created by experimenting in Quilling, an ancient art form that has been practiced since (more…)
Notwithstanding a certain reticence and self control which seems to belong to their age, and with all their quaint dresses, and ceremonies, and manners, the ladies and gentlemen in Pride and Prejudice and its companion novels seem like living people out of our own acquaintance transported bodily into a bygone age, represented in the half-dozen books that contain Jane Austen’s works. Dear books! bright, sparkling with wit and animation, in which the homely heroines charm, the dull hours fly, and the very bores are enchanting…. She has a gift of telling a story in a way that has never been surpassed. She rules her places, times, characters, and marshals them with unerring precision. Her machinery is simple but complete; events group themselves so vividly and naturally in her mind that, in describing imaginary scenes, we seem not only to read them but to live them, to see the people coming and going—the gentlemen courteous and in top-boots, the ladies demure and piquant; we can almost hear them talking to one another. No retrospects; no abrupt flights, as in real life: days and events follow one another. Last Tuesday does not suddenly start into existence all out of place; nor does 1790 appear upon the scene when we are well on in ’21. Countries and continents do not fly from hero to hero, nor do long and divergent adventures happen to unimportant members of the company. With Miss Austen, days, hours, minutes, succeed each other like clockwork; one central figure is always (more…)
Coal definitely made a brighter, warmer, and less smoky fire than wood, and in Jane Austen’s day, had become a preferred source of heat. The Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 1700’s was fueled by coal and though it had been a prime energy source for centuries, the oldest continuously worked deep-mine, Tower Colliery, was opened in Wales, in 1805. Prior to that coal had been gathered “at the surface” or in private mining endeavors. The first commercial coal mines in the United States were started in 1748 in Midlothian, Virginia, near Richmond, Virginia. The following excerpt from The House Servant’s Directory, was written by Robert Roberts in 1827. Mr. Roberts had been butler to the governor of Massachusetts in 1809 and drew upon his work in that great house, to offer this advice to his fellow laborers. Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal And now, Joseph and David, I must address a few ‘last words’ to you on the subject of making coal fires. Having put down all that need be said in respect to employers and servants in their conduct towards each other, I wish to add some very superior directions for making fires of what is anthracite coal, otherwise called Lehigh, Rhode Island, or any hard coal. Very few servants at first understand the method of kindling and continuing a fire of Lehigh coal, many will never learn, and many more from erroneous instructions, whilst they think they understand is, make but a (more…)
I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her. I am not sorry to be back again, for the young ladies had a great deal to do, and without much method in doing it. Jane Austen to Cassandra June 6, 1811 George William Frederick, (4 June 1738-29 January 1820), or King George III, is said by many to have gone mad, necessitating the Regency. But is this what really happened? Not according to recent research. Actually, the research isn’t all that new, which is why it is inexcusable, to my thinking, to continue to characterize the King as merely having gone mad. In 1994, the movie, The Madness of King George tried to set the record straight…sort of. If I remember correctly, there was a little blurb at the end stating that the King actually suffered from Porphyria, a disease of the blood. One is inclined to think, however, that most people never read the blurb, though this is, in fact, the modern consensus of what the King’s malady actually was. Porphyria. So-what, we ask, is porphyria? Dictionaries will merely tell you that it is a metabolic disorder that affects the blood, secondarily. The main cause of symptoms, however, is not a result of how the blood is affected, (more…)