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An excerpt from Dress in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson

New in the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop is Dress in the Age of Jane Austen – a fantastic large format hardback book by Hilary Davidson. You can buy the book here.

Here is an extract from the book’s introduction:

‘Civility’, ‘fancying’, ‘imprudence’. Jane Austen used these three words more in her writing than any other author. They epitomise dress in the age when Austen lived and worked. A rising middle class sought ever greater civility, they consumed new fancies from other lands and times and manufacture that influenced fashions; and accusations of imprudence were flung against wealthy style leaders and their unsuccessful imitators.

Austen (16 December 1775–18 July 1817) is one of the world’s most influential, studied and beloved authors. Her works are synonymous with the fashions of the ‘Regency’ period, awash with high waists, heaving bosoms and cutaway coats. Yet, what did people who lived during the times and places Austen knew really wear? She is foremost a social commentator, and dress is a nuanced social marker, so clothing and needlework pinpoint niceties of character in her novels. Austen’s letters reveal a lively sartorial interest, beside concerns about how to dress well on a limited income. During the author’s short life, unprecedented and accelerated change saw Britain’s turbulent entry into the modern age. Clothing reflected these transitions.

Over a period of twenty years, fashion moved from ornamented width to minimal, streamlined ‘naturalism’, then widened again with the advent of Romanticism. How did these changes correspond to national and global events? To what extent does the microcosm of dress in Austen’s defined, middling-gentry world reflect larger concerns and trends? How did her contemporaries obtain clothing? What systems of local and commercial fashion exchange existed and how did technological progress affect those networks? How did fashion incorporate the burgeoning availability of consumer goods? This book attempts to paint a realistic picture of dress in Austen’s era by addressing these questions.

You can buy your copy of Dress in the Age of Jane Austen here.

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Ten things you might not know about Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

As the anniversary of the publication of Jane’s debut novel approaches on October 30th, we bring you ten facts that you might not know about Sense and Sensibility!


1) Jane’s first full length novel was originally known as Elinor and Marianne and told its story through a series of correspondances. Cassandra recalls Jane reading this novel to her family some 15 years prior to the publishing of Sense and Sensibility, although it’s unclear how much the novel changed in the intervening period.


2) Jane is said to have strongly believed that one should only marry where there is genuine affection. It is suggested that Jane is writing autobiographically when Elinor Dashwood ruminates on “the worst and most irremediable of all evils, a connection for life” with an unsuitable man.


3) Sense and Sensibility was published by Thomas Egerton on a commission basis. That is to say that the financial risk would have laid with Jane if the book had been unsuccessful .


4) To maximise his commission profit on the book, Egerton printed it onto expensive paper and sold the three volume tome for 15 shillings.


5) The first edition of Sense and Sensibility is estimated to have comprised of between 700 and 1000 copies.


6) Austen made the princely sum of £140 from sales of the first edition of Sense and Sensibility.


7) Very few people knew the author’s identity. Copies of Sense and Sensibility listed its author as A Lady and her subsequent books were attributed to The Author of Sense and Sensibility. It wasn’t until after her death that Jane’s name appeared on any of her books.


8) Dame Emma Thompson took five years to develop the screenplay for 1995’s big screen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Her work paid off though, as it earned her an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, along with a nomination for Best Actress. Emma remains the only person to win an Oscar for both screenwriting and acting.


9) The first French translation of Sense and Sensibility was written by Madame Isabelle de Montoliue, who had only a basic grasp of the English language. As such, this translation followed Jane’s original story only very loosely with key lines and even whole scenes changed.


10) The Prince Regent was one of the first purchasers of Sense and Sensibility, having bought a copy two days before it was first advertised. Jane despised the Prince, but agreed to dedicate her fourth novel, Emma, to him.

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The Jane Austen Quiz – How Well Do You Know Mr Darcy?

The Jane Austen Quiz – How Well Do You Know Mr Darcy?

This edition of the Jane Austen Quiz will test your knowledge of Mr Darcy! Score 8/10 or better and you’ll be in with a chance to win a £10 voucher for our Online Gift Shop in our monthly quiz prize draw!

If you’d like to see your scores without entering the competition, just scroll to the bottom of the page after entering the last question and hit the submit button!


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Sanditon TV Series Finale Causes Controvery

It’s fair to say that the series finale of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon adaptation has prompted huge discussion amongst both Jane Austen fans and casual viewers alike!

Fair warning, this article contains spoilers, so if you haven’t yet seen the final episode and are planning to, click to see some spoiler free interviews with the cast.

Last chance!


The final episode saw many of the storylines resolved, but it was Charlotte and Sidney’s ending which left some viewers devastated. After finally admitting their feelings for one another, the pair parted with Sidney agreeing to keep his word and marry Eliza – a woman he doesn’t love.

We asked our Facebook friends for their thoughts and it’s fair to say we were inundated! Here’s a flavour of what people thought:

Christine said:
“I loved Sanditon it was brilliant right up until the last half of episode 8, it was very disappointing that Sidney and Charlotte will not get married as they are so much in love, I really hope that there will be a second series and Sidney and Charlotte will be together and get married. I wonder want Jane would think not in pressed with the ending.”

Francesca said:
“The ending is immeasurably disappointing. But only the last ten minutes, everything else is wonderful.”

Mary said:
“Loved it, but so disappointed with the ending. It certainly kept you hoping, right to the last second that Sydney would change his mind! Just hope there is a second series and all ends well for Charlotte.”

Gemma said:
“I was fuming!! Had been looking forward all week to watching the final episode of Sanditon, and to watch that….I felt broken hearted for both of them! Especially poor Charlotte! Boo hoo hoo”

Colleen said:
“My thoughts…. I watch a lot of shows and expect a shock, surprise or twist. Peaky Blinders, Game of Thrones etc. But no Jane Austen adaptation has “jumped the shark” like this and not delivered the happy ending. There is an unwritten contract between the writer and producers with the audience. We understand there maybe twists and turns, there maybe misunderstandings but in the end (maybe even the last few minutes or so) the heroine and the hero will make it in the end together. There is a declaration of love, a wedding or an acknowledgment of their future together. It is why we all watch and why we are all fans, ravenous for these tales. Not for the way this ended, we were cheated and I feel deceived. Don’t call it Austen then. Make up a story but don’t attach her name.

Nicole said:
“Worst ending ever, as a life long fan of Jane Austen I felt disappointed that the ending was so dreadful!”

Fiona said:
“It felt unfinished. Loved every episode up until the ending. Very disappointing. I was very upset”

Jo said:
“Hate it!!! I am proper gutted – poor Charlotte!”

Caroline said:
“Loved it right up until the ending. Everything seems very rushed in the end. The ending was not Jane Austen.”

Jane said:
“Shock, I can hear Jane Austen spinning in her grave. Wondering what the hell they did to Sanditon”


Not all of the feedback was negative, with many people suggesting/expecting a second series:

James said:
“I’ve heard so many people criticising the last episode saying its not the happy ending they expect from an Austen story. To those I advise reading her Juvenilia, full of unhappy endings, objectionable characters with questionable motives. Sanditon was Janes last story and I think her writing was starting to grow beyond the need to end a story with an obligatory wedding and ‘all’s well with the world‘ type ending. I honestly think Jane would’ve done something similar to the ending we saw.”

Naomi said:
“Jane Austen, always considered as an amazing english novelist. I loved this series of Sanditon. If this is the ending with Sidney sacrificing his happiness with Charlotte, I’m resolved to believe that although being divided for now, whatever the future holds for them, their love will endure. With the unknown outcome of additional story lines and the ending would suggest another series, surely.”

Vasantha said:
“Exceptionally traumatic….I have never reacted to so much emotion in my life in the way I did on Sunday evening. This just shows how wonderful the actors are and how real their performances. Even Pride and Prejudice didn’t conjure up the emotion I am still feeling two days later. I think Andrew Davies has done a wonderful job bringing this to life in his own inimitable way, knowing that the novel was unfinished. It was an unexpectedly shocking end and has to be the best and saddest cliffhanger I have ever seen…I am living in hope for an amazing Season 2 with a classic Jane Austen ending.”

Fabienne said:
“Not really surprised as it was an unfinished novel and hopefully this was done purposely to have room for a second series for a happy ending for Charlotte and Miss Lamb”

Jane said:
“Lady D will die and leave her money to Tom therefore allowing Sidney to get out of his engagement…….. well I hope so, poor Charlotte. Next series sooooon please!”

Cate said:
“Loved it! An very un-Austen ending but I really liked that about it. I really hope they do season 2 and there was no better person than the legendary Andrew Davies to take on her unfinished novel.”

Holly said:
“I loved the ending. I don’t want another series. It showed a maturity in Austen that not all endings are happy and money & duty will win over love.”

Kay said:
“I thought and hoped that Sidney would chase after the coach and tell her he’d changed his mind. To be honest I was devastated, but now I think it might have left it open for another for another series. I hope!”

Myra said:
“The clue was in Lady Denham’s story about her lost love. And I believe a second series is planned!”

Jane said:
“I really loved it, if Lord B and Esther had not got together, there would have been ABSOLUTE SCENES in my house. I was annoyed at Sidney pulling the old “you make me a better man” trope previously, it’s not just about how SHE makes YOU feel, you selfish grump. And disappointed there was no resolution to the Miss Lambe/ jolly Mr Parker relationship, I think they’d be lovely together. Very much hoping for a second season, maybe exploring more of the West Indies at the time?”


It’s not too late to share how you think on our Facebook page! And if/when a second series is announced, we’ll be sure to let you know!

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The Jane Austen Quiz – Jane’s Other Works

The Jane Austen Quiz – Jane’s Other Works

In this week’s Jane Austen Quiz, we’ll find out how much you know about Jane Austen’s other works! Score 8/10 or better and you’ll be in with a chance to win a £10 voucher for our Online Gift Shop in our monthly quiz prize draw!

If you’d like to see your scores without entering the competition, just scroll to the bottom of the page after entering the last question and hit the submit button!


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Younger Sons in Jane Austen’s England

This guest article is written by Rory Muir – a visiting research fellow at the University of Adelaide and a renowned expert on British history. You can buy a signed copy of his book, Gentleman of Uncertain Fortune, in the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop.


Younger Sons in Jane Austen’s England

Like many people, I first read Jane Austen’s novels in my mid-teens when I was still at school, and I fell in love with their sharpness, their wit and their emotional pull. I was intrigued by their depiction of early nineteenth century British society, with its minute distinctions of class and status indicating degrees of good breeding or vulgarity, and I appreciated the way that Austen showed that even her heroes and heroines were flawed, or at least behaved badly on occasion, without sacrificing our sympathy for them.

I was also interested in the early nineteenth century in a different way. When I was still in primary school I had become fascinated in the battle of Waterloo and this had broadened to cover all of Napoleon’s campaigns and the nature of Napoleonic warfare. This interest in military history continued at university and led in turn to a doctorate and then a number of books looking at Britain’s part in the war against Napoleon and Wellington’s campaigns in particular. I edited a collection of confidential letters from Alexander Gordon, one of Wellington’s ADCs, which gave new insight into the way Wellington operated, and I wrote a comprehensive two volume life of Wellington which was published in 2013 and 2015. That book took me fifteen years and by the time I had finished it, I needed a change, but I still loved the period and wanted to keep on writing.

Both Alexander Gordon and Wellington were younger sons whose fathers died when they were very young. Neither inherited enough to live on, and they depended on their elder brothers – who inherited great estates – for assistance in their careers. I was struck by the obvious injustice of this: that one brother would inherit an estate that gave him an income of £16,000 or £17,000 while the other would get only £2,000 of capital (which might produce £100 income), and that everyone accepted that this was perfectly normal and reasonable. The consequence of this was that younger sons and younger brothers had to go out and make their way in the world even when their father was a wealthy lord.

But how could the younger son of a lord, or an independent gentleman, make money in Regency England? Suppose Mr and Mrs Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, had had five sons, not five daughters, how would the younger ones have made a place for themselves? And for that matter, how did Jane Austen’s own brothers fare?

I already knew the rough answer to the question. That relatively few careers were open to young men of good family without the loss of some social status: they might become officers in the army or the navy; or clergymen; or lawyers. Medicine was rather more dubious, but physicians were often regarded as gentlemen, and surgeon-apothecaries were no longer the crude barber-surgeons of the past. Some young men might follow a family connection into trade (and some business ventures, such as banking, were socially acceptable), while others were sent out to India or other colonies in the hope – a rather desperate one – that they would make a fortune and return a wealthy nabob.

But that was no more than an outline, and no one seemed to have gone any further. What did it mean to become an officer in the army, or a barrister, or a clergyman? What prospects of worldly success or of happiness did these careers offer? What sort of life would they bring?

When I dug a little further I found some fine scholarship on individual careers: the clergy and the navy were particularly well covered, while other careers had received much less attention. But even the best of these studies lacked a comparative element. How did a clergyman’s prospects compare to those of a naval officer? Was an attorney, or a curate, or militia officer more suitable as a suitor or a young woman of good family?

I set to work to try to answer these questions and I found the result fascinating. The result, Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons made their way in Jane Austen’s England, was great fun to write and I hope will be fun to read, even though some of the lives that it recounts were sad and often quite short. Jane Austen, her characters and her family figure prominently, for they provide an excellent entry point to the great majority of young men who never became particularly successful. But Wellington is there too, and so is Alexander Gordon; Sydney Smith, the witty clergyman, and a young lawyer, John Scott, whose career almost ended in obscurity but was saved by a chance opportunity. Then there are Henry Thornton, a banker; John Green Cross, a surgeon; Benjamin Smith, an attorney; Henry Roberdeau, an official of the East India Company, and many more. It is a wonderful subject, and I was delighted to find so many vivid first hand accounts describing the lives of these young men, who might easily have provided the model for a character in any of Austen’s novels.

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Jane Austen Letter to Cassandra up for auction

A rare handwritten letter from Jane Austen is coming up for auction on 23rd October 2019 at Bonhams in New York.

Although Jane was a prolific letter writer (it’s estimated that she composed at least 3000 during her life), there are only around 160 known examples surviving – many were destroyed routinely, as was custom of the time and it is suggested by some that a number were deliberately destroyed to protect the Austen family and Jane’s image.

This particular letter, dated September 1810, was written to her sister Cassandra and discusses many personal matters, including music lessons, the children’s dentistry and Mrs Tilson’s child-bearing (by this point, the wife of Henry’s business partner had given birth to at least thirteen children and Jane predicts that she may be “in the family way” again. Jane is also glad to report on her mother’s health and that she is “no longer in need of leeches”.

The letter also contains a beautiful snapshot of Jane’s everyday life with a wonderfully Austenian line: “We are now all four of us young Ladies sitting round the Circular Table in the inner room writing our Letters, while the two Brothers are having a comfortable coze in the room adjoining…”. Interestingly, Mansfield Park contains the first known published use of the word “coze” and this letter pre-dates that.

The book is expected to reach $80,000 – 120,000 (£65,000 – 98,000) at the auction – time to raid those piggy banks!


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The Jane Austen Quiz – Food Glorious Food!

The Jane Austen Quiz – Food Glorious Food

This edition of the Jane Austen Quiz centres around food mentions in Jane’s novels. Score 8/10 or better and you’ll be in with a chance to win a £10 voucher for our Online Gift Shop in our monthly quiz prize draw!

If you’d like to see your scores without entering the competition, just scroll to the bottom of the page after entering the last question and hit the submit button!