Jane Austen Nuncheon 10 Weird and Wonderful Things you Probably Don’t Know About her World For more than two hundred years, Jane Austen’s books have remained best-selling classics – smart and witty glimpses into the drawing room of the day that never seem to fall out of fashion. However, despite being renowned for her social commentary, as a novelist Jane Austen focused on the story and emotions of her characters, rather than the wider world they inhabited. She also worked on the rather modest assumption that her readership would consist entirely of women from her time and social class, all of whom needed very little contextual explanation. If only she knew! So, to coincide with the anniversary of her best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, Country House Library thought we’d take a journey back to a time when women wore crinoline and men looked dashing on a horse, and explain a few of the things about her world that you might not know. The first of these: a Jane Austen nuncheon. 1) Breakfasts Were Large As it was common for Jane Austen’s contemporaries to get up at 8am and occupy themselves for a couple of hours before eating – for instance a man might work, whilst a woman might sew, breakfast usually didn’t happen until around 10 o’clock. When they did eventually sit down to eat it would also probably consist of leftovers from the previous day’s dinner, for example in Mansfield Park they start the day with, ‘cold pork bones (more…)
by Alice Chandler, author of Aunt Jane and the Missing Cherry Pie
I do apologize for the pun in my title.
The Olifant I refer to is Margaret Olifant (1828-1894), a prolific and popular nineteenth-century writer and said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novelist. The reason that I figuratively place Olifant in the same room as Jane Austen is that she was such a trenchant and perceptive critic of Austen’s work.
Austen was not always fortunate in her woman critics during the century after her death. While famous male authors lauded her and often compared her work to Shakespeare’s, some notable women writers were very critical of her writing. Her contemporary Mary Mitford, whose mother actually knew Jane Austen, was well-known in her time for her charming short novel, Our Village. Mitford disliked Elizabeth Bennett as a character and criticized “the entire want of taste that could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy.”
Charlotte Bronte was particularly negative about Austen. She compared her writing to a “daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face” and complained that her work “lacked poetry.” She thought that Austen’s novels delineated “the surface… lives of genteel English people.” But they ignored “what throbs fast and full… what the blood rushes through… the unseen seat of life.” Or to put it more simply, her books had no heart. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was similarly, though less violently, critical of Austen’s passionlessness. She found her novels perfect but shallow.
The Trial of Mrs Jane Leigh Perrot – the Primary Sources
by David Pugsley
Discussions of Aunt Jane’s trial and the question whether she was innocent or guilty are normally based entirely on John Pinchard’s account, conveniently re-printed in MacKinnon’s Grand Larceny (1937), as if there was no other source of information and as if all the witnesses were telling the truth. However, there are other contemporary sources
I. The advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and other local newspapers
There is a series of advertisements in the Bath Chronicle for no. 1, Bath Street, near or opposite the King’s Bath: 14 May and 16 July 1795, Gregory & Co; 19 May 1796, 5 and 12 January 1797, W Smith; 11 May 1797, Smith, “Mrs Smith is also just returned with an elegant assortment of Millinery, etc”; 29 June 1797, Smith; 8 November 1798, 28 March and 4 April, 21 November (“The Proprietor”) 1799, 6 February, 10 and 17 April, and 11 more dates in 1800; 10 dates in 1801; 12 dates in 1802; 10 dates in 1803, plus 8 and 15 December (death of W. Smith); 8 dates in 1804; 9 dates in 1805; 8 dates in 1806, including 18 December (“A vacancy for an apprentice at Christmas”); and 3 dates in 1807, ending on 19 March, all Mrs Smith.
Contrast Elizabeth Gregory’s evidence under cross-examination by Mr Dallas: “Witness said she had been in the shop nearly five years; kept it two years herself; is sister to Mrs Smith, who kept it before; Mr Smith in London 8th August; carried on business on her own account, not for the benefit of Smith and wife” (Pinchard, p. 10). Under further cross-examination: “Mrs Smith was not entitled to more of the profits than witness chose to give her … She bought and sold upon her own account and in her own name; it is customary and advantageous that the old name should be continued on shops, and it was sometimes done for years after a person had given up trade; Smith’s name was continued over the door with this view only” (Pinchard, p. 12).
(Were Elizabeth Gregory and Charles Filby taking advantage of Mrs Smith’s absence in Cornwall to try to make a little money for themselves?) Continue reading Aunt Jane’s Trial
by Rhian Helen Fender
“Mrs Edwards thinks you are a child still. But we know better than that, don’t we.”
So began the 2008 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, with the cad Willoughby seducing the naïve ward of heroic Colonel Brandon. The atmosphere seductive with low-light and fireplace burning, ripping bodices and whispered words… In its review, the Telegraph described how viewers tuned in “with jaws dropped, to this unexpected opening for an Austen adaptation.” The question is, why? Why would viewers deem a sultry scene unexpected in an adaptation of the work of Austen? Austen appears to have a reputation for representing everything that is light and lovely, with the admiring Sir Walter Scott describing Pride and Prejudice (1813) as “a very pretty thing.” Austen herself seemed aware – and concerned – of her delicate reputation, stating her fear that the novel Scott so admired was “too light, and bright, and sparkling.” Whilst it is true to state that Austen was largely focussed on the lower gentry of which she was personally aware, it would be a disservice to her work to suppose she did not consider larger social influences or events, nor the more scandalous actions of those whose world she so accurately depicts. Within Austen’s novels are various themes that are often ignored or unseen when analysing her work, considered too sinister in the works of the purportedly genteel Jane Austen.
Mansfield Park (1814) tells the story of young Fanny Price, a girl able to rise above her station due to the wealth and goodwill of her extended family. The source of that power, however, is controversial due to the head of the household’s links to the slave trade. It would be an exaggeration to proclaim the novel as slavery prose – allusions to the system are rare and implicit – yet the very fact that Austen chooses to even subtly reference slavery is a bold move. The one direct reference to slavery comes as Fanny describes a family conversation with her cousins and uncle: “And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence. And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject.” Austen leaves it to the reader to deduce why Fanny’s family might be silent when discussing slavery – disinterest, embarrassment, shame, ignorance –and it is this empowerment of the reader in reaching their own conclusions which gives this brief passage weight. Austen does not preach to her readers, but allows them to make their own deductions. Sir Thomas Bertram’s years at his plantation in Antigua is what allows much of the action of the novel to occur – unloving marriages, flirtation and seduction – and the reader is not incorrect in supposing that Sir Thomas’s focus would have been better placed at home, rather than in underhand dealings abroad. Continue reading In Defence of Jane Austen
by Margaret Mills
What reading material do you turn to if you are unwell? The novelist Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a letter early in 1865 to John Ruskin, about one of her own books, in which she said: “whenever I am ailing or ill, I take Cranford and – I was going to say enjoy it (but that would not be pretty!) laugh over it afresh!”
For a couple of months last summer, my own life was temporarily disrupted because I was “ailing or ill”, and spent most of my time indoors. No real hardship this, as I am, and always have been, a great reader, and at times like this I turn to one of my favourite authors, the divine Jane Austen. Well or not, I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have read Jane Austen’s works over the years. My favourites are probably Pride and Prejudice and Emma, but the reason I settled on Pride and Prejudice as my first selection rests partly on the first chapter alone: the immediacy of the introductory paragraph plunges you straight into the story, and I have always adored the dry humour of Mr Bennet, the father of those “silly and ignorant” daughters! Continue reading Jane Austen and Illness
A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed by Martin J. Cawthorne
Jane Austen’s father, George Austen has many connections to the city of Bath.
On the 26th April 1764 he married, by special licence, Cassandra Leigh in St Swithin’s, Walcot. The Austen family were regular visitors to Bath and in December 1800, after 35 years ministering in Steventon, George Austen announced his retirement and moved to Bath, where he spent his final years. He died in the city on the 21st January 1805 and is buried at St Swithin’s Church where a memorial to him has been erected.
Jane Austen lived at home with her parents all her life and the Rev George Austen played a significant part in her life. Apart from a brief period at boarding school, Jane was largely educated at home; George also provided writing equipment for her to develop her literary talent. The Rev Austen features in Jane’s correspondence and as a result much is known about his adult life. Very little, however, has been written about George Austen’s early life, before he met and married Cassandra Leigh. It is known that he was orphaned at the age of six before going to school in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent, from where he won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford. However, very little has been written about these formative early years of his life – until now.
By Caroline Kerr Taylor
2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She is one of the world’s most popular literary giants. It was a tragic loss that she died at 41, just as her star was gaining traction in the literary firmaments.
We will never know for sure the exact cause of her death. The medical community has conjectured Addison’s disease, an adrenal insufficiency, or some form of cancer such as lymphoma. Any one of these diseases would have been exacerbated by long periods of extreme stress. Though she enjoyed a good deal of literary success in her last years, there is much evidence that they were also filled with insecurity and worry.
Family was the centre of Jane’s world. As she never married, she lived her entire life within the family circle. George Austen, Jane’s father, was a member of the clergy and Oxford educated. Their family was part of local genteel society; however, financially they were barely inside the bounds of polite society. Women of her class did not work. Jane and her sister Cassandra, as unmarried women, continued to live with their parents. While Jane’s closest and deepest connection was to her only sister Cassandra, she also enjoyed a close relationship with her brothers. As the boys grew up they left home, had careers, and raised families of their own. They did, however, keep a close extended family connection with visits between families, and corresponding when apart.
George Austen retired in 1800 and gave the Steventon parish living to their oldest son James. The Austens, along with their daughters, then moved to Bath. Here they rented various temporary accommodations. After living in a large house in the country it was not an easy adjustment. Continue reading The effects of the family’s misfortunes on Jane Austen’s death