Posted on

Having a Spot of Jane Austen Nuncheon

Jane Austen Nuncheon - What was it?

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 and mustard’. Yum!

2) Afternoons Hadn’t Been Invented Yet

In Jane Austen’s time, the entire period between breakfast and dinner at 4pm was called morning, whilst any time after that became evening. Knowing this puts many of the timeframes described in her books into focus, and all those long hours tramping around wet fields that Elizabeth and Jane Bennet somehow manage to squeeze into their morning during Pride and Prejudice, suddenly make a lot more sense.

3) Dinner was a Social Statement

Exactly when you choose to sit down to dinner indicated how ‘on trend’ you were. For instance in Pride and Prejudice, Jane tells us that the Bingley’s dined at 6.30pm, and had we been of her time we would have understood that by insisting on a fashionably late dinner time they were actually showing off how sophisticated they were, not to mention sending the Bennet family a clear message – ‘compared to us you are socially inferior, country yokels’.  

4) Anyone for Nuncheon?

Afternoon wasn’t the only thing that hadn’t been invented yet, neither had lunch. Instead, Jane Austen’s contemporaries would snack on whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted between breakfast and dinner, with cold meats playing a big part once again. This kind of on-demand grazing was referred to by Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility as ‘nuncheon’.

5) Call me Sir, Child!

In the Regency period it was normal to call your parents Sir, Ma’am or Madam, rather than Mother or Father. From reading Pride and Prejudice, we can tell Elizabeth and her Father are incredibly close, but by calling him Papa she is actually making a break with the social norms of the time, causing 19thcentury readers to instantly recognise her as an unconventional character.

6) Don’t Talk to Me (First)

The 18thcentury’s complex rules of speech didn’t just apply to children and parents, and one that stands-out to modern readers is that a person of a lower social status must never speak first to someone considered higher than them. When Mr Collins gets this rule wrong in Pride and Prejudice, we are meant to see him as lacking in social skills, and therefore a poor choice as a husband.

7) Sewing was Big

Clothes at the time were expensive, and had to be mended and remade many times over. Whilst a servant might do the boring bits, the ladies themselves had to do any high-end finishes and embroidery and would also sew and mend for the men in their lives. For instance, in Mansfield Park, upon hearing that her brother Sam has successfully got into the Army, a delighted Fanny Price embarks on a veritable sewing marathon to get the many bits of his uniform ready in time.

8) You had to Teach Yourself

Female children were traditionally given very little formal education, and often had to pick up their father’s books and educate themselves. Given the basic level of education they had to start with, and how dry and technical the books of the time were, this was no easy task, and when you consider that Jane taught herself more-or-less everything she knew, it’s even more remarkable that she pretty much invented the modern novel.

9) And Pay to Work

Whilst aristocratic ladies were busy reading and sewing, most aspiring gentleman were busy chasing the most fashionable position of the day – Army Officer. As a job this was made even better by the fact that they rarely did anything, with all the real work done by their sergeants, leaving them free to preen and flirt. This would have been well known during Jane’s time, and a beautifully subversive element in Northanger Abbey is how General Tilney and his two eldest sons spend so much time self-identifying by their military titles, despite lacking any ability whatsoever.

10) And Finally – Money

When reading Jane Austen’s books, we get a sense of who the richest characters are from the reactions of those around them, but we might not understand how rich these people would be by today’s standards. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet’s husband choice number one – Mr Collins, earns £500 per year, roughly equivalent to today’s average UK wage of £24,250 – perfectly fine to live off, but in no way lavish. Mr Darcy meanwhile pulls in a whopping £10,000 a year – over £485,000 in today’s money.

 

*****

Want to re-read Pride and Prejudice with your new Jane Austen nuncheon knowledge? Country House Library has over 200 vintage Jane Austen titles to choose from, including a beautiful, original 19thcentury copy. You can find them all here and read their Editor’s Picks Here.

Posted on

Historical Knotwork – The Sea Chest Becket

Historical Knotwork of a sea chest becket

Historical Knotwork – A Naval CV of Sorts

This sea chest becket (handle) is exactly the sort which would have been found on the naval chests used by sailors in Nelson’s Navy. Not only is it a beautiful item in itself, it’s also an object which would have worked as a sort of “knotwork CV” for any boy who wished to be hired.
Nelson himself joined the Royal Navy in 1771 at the age of twelve. In that era, children of this age were old enough to take up training or apprenticeships and it was normal for boys to go to sea to train as officers and, if they passed the examination before the Commissioners of the Admiralty, they could expect to be lieutenants at the age of eighteen.
If any boy (or trained sailor for that matter) needed to prove his worth to a prospective captain or other marine employer, then a sea chest becket such as this one would show his skill with ropes, and prove that he would be a skilled pair of hands to have aboard ship. However, usually they would not be done by the sailor, but would come already installed on the chest. Those with the skill to make them would get the chest with plain beckets and then replace them when he had the time.
How is it made?
This sea chest becket is made from a rope centre, spliced at either end,  padded with canvas (or “pudding’d” to give it it’s technical term) to give it a bit of shape, and then covered with a variety of hitches and techniques. Each historical knotwork technique would be needed on board ship for a different use.
What are the knot and what would they be used for?
Techniques visible from the top down are:
double crown knots…
…ring bolt hitching on the top loops beside the red washers…
…moku hitching…
…and coach-whipping.
Each section is joined by a Turk’s Head, which hides the joins of the different coverings and makes for a decorative touch.
These knots could be used on board ship for such things as making stair handrails (moku hitching), covering metal rings so that they would not slip or rub and were easier to handle (ring bolt whipping), stopping masts from chaffing on the ropes, or creating stoppers (as is the case for the double crown knot).
A pair of these beckets would be fastened to each end of a sea chest with a wooden boss, similar to the one shown here.
If you wanted a last bit of detail on your sea chest beckets they could be painted (and commonly were)  with shiny oil blacking and with the accents picked out in gold. Some genuine examples from the Georgian era have been coated over again until they take in a lacquered look. One of the big advantages of leaving the beckets unpainted is that you can see the knotwork better.
*****
This sea chest bracket was made at the Orkney College Maritime Dept, to be presented to Princess Anne who presided over their graduation ceremony this year (2018).
The knotwork information and photos were kindly provided by Mark Shiner, who also made the bracket itself, and who is the curriculum leader for Maritime Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands – Orkney College.
Words by Jenni Waugh.
Posted on

Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

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.

Whi Continue reading Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

Posted on

Aunt Jane’s Trial

Jane Leigh Perrot

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

Jane Leigh Perrot

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

Posted on

In Defence of Jane Austen

by Rhian Helen Fender

Olivia Williams as Jane in the BBC film Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

 

“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

Posted on

Jane Austen and Illness

Jane Austen and illness

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

Posted on

The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

George Austin

A look at James Cawthorn, George Austen and the Curious Case of the Schoolboy Who Was Killed by Martin J. Cawthorne

George Austin

 

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.

Continue reading The Formative Years of George Austen, Jane’s father

Posted on

The effects of the family’s misfortunes on Jane Austen’s death

Jane Austen's Death

By Caroline Kerr Taylor

Jane Austen's death

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