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18th Century Umbrellas

When first we came, all the umbrellas were up, but now the pavements are getting very white again.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Bath, May 17, 1799

Umbrellas often appear in Austen's novels as a chivalrous response to a lady's need. From left to right, Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.
Umbrellas often appear in Austen’s novels as a chivalrous response to a lady’s need. L-R Persuasion, Emma, Mansfield Park.

During the 17th century, ladies used parasols for protection from the sun. A century later they were using oiled umbrellas as protection from the rain as well. By the early 19th century, the design of the umbrella had improved and its use had become widespread. After Maria’s marriage, Fanny Price was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage and sought shelter under an oak. When the Grants spotted her, they sent out a servant, but Fanny was reluctant to come in:

A civil servant she had withstood but when Dr Grant himself went out with an umbrella there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed and to get into the house as fast as possible; and to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plans of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty four hours, the sound of a little bustle at the front door and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule was delightful. – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

 

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