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A Dangerous Intimacy: Mansfield Park and Playing at Love

Contrary Wind

Contrary WindBy Lona Manning

A group of young people, passing the rainy weeks of autumn together in “a dull country house,” decide to entertain themselves by staging a play. So what’s so wrong about that, as the critic Lionel Trilling asks rhetorically in his 1954 essay?

The characters in Jane Austen’s great novel, Mansfield Park, devote a great deal of time to debating the question. The play chosen, Lovers’ Vows, is a real play, and Austen could have relied on the fact that her contemporary readers would be familiar with this play. A greater understanding of the play, and of the social milieu of Mansfield Park, will help modern readers understand why the novel’s hero and heroine — Edmund Bertram and his meek cousin Fanny Price — thought that yes, there was plenty wrong about that.

Lovers’ Vows has two storylines – one melodramatic and one comic. Frederick, a young soldier returning home, encounters his mother starving by the roadside. He also learns to his horror that he is illegitimate, and his father is the long-absent Baron Wildenhaim. A kindly local peasant, or Cottager, and his wife take his mother under their roof. Frederick accosts his father and is thrown in prison but matters are eventually sorted out and the remorseful Baron marries Agatha. Meanwhile, the Baron’s legitimate daughter, Amelia, is the lead in the comic storyline. She flirtatiously woos her tutor, the preacher Anhalt, while fending off a marriage proposal from Count Cassel. The entire action is commented on, in rhyming verse, by the Butler, another comic character.

In other words, the themes of Lovers’ Vows (in the original German, the play was called The Love Child) are extra-marital sex and seduction, albeit where sinners repent and Virtue triumphs in the end. Fanny thinks the two female leads, Agatha and Amelia, are “totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, [are] unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty.”

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Rural England in the Age of Jane Austen

Rural England in the Age of Jane Austenby Marc DeSantis A Rural England Though Jane Austen’s life of forty-one years was lamentably short, her time on earth, 1775 to 1817, was nonetheless one of great and momentous change.  England was still largely rural in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture.  The population of Britain at the dawn of the nineteenth century was nine million, with four-fifths of this total living in the country.  Fully one-third of the population of England was employed in agriculture. Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather, which was especially fickle in the late eighteenth century.  The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving.  Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet.  Crops and livestock could be devastated by too much cold or not enough rain.  Poor weather also encouraged the spread of blights and rots.  When the wheat harvest was bad, the price of bread shot up, making it hard for the poor to feed themselves, and riots over food would sometimes erupt among the rural hungry. Life in the country had other hardships.  There were highwaymen on the roads ready to waylay travelers, groups of gypsies robbed countryfolk as well, and thieves stole horses and other valuables.  On some occasions there were even murders, particularly when it was thought that a vulnerable (more…)
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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Five – At the Assembly Rooms, at last!

Dear Reader, I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.  Humbly yours,  Eveline Helm. June 1797  I am incredibly pleased to report that the sedan chair bearers did not drop me on the way to the Assembly Rooms as I had feared they might. As it turned out, I rather enjoyed my short ride; it was a smoother journey than I had thought, and certainly a very grand journey. My Uncle went ahead of us on foot, as gentlemen in Bath are wont to do, and was there to greet us as the doors of my Aunt’s and my own respective boxes were held open for us. I succeeded in stepping out from the small compartment with what I hope was some degree of grace, and found myself in front of the entrance, which consists of a grand pediment held up by four pale stone columns. There was little time to take in the grandeur of the outside, however, as my Aunt linked her arm through mine and guided me inside. Once admitted, we proceeded to tour the Rooms. The assembly rooms near home, to which I have been to dance before, are nothing (more…)
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The Sheet Music for Austen Film Scores

Jane Austen loved to play the pianoforte. She used to copy out music from her friends into books that remain in the Chawton House library to this day. Many of these pieces- classics by Bach, Mozart, Handel and others – are readily available for today’s musicians. If you want to try your hand yourself, A Carriage Ride In Queen’s Square, a wonderful compendium of original ‘easy to play piano pieces for Jane Austen’s Bath’ with a playalong CD included, is currently available from the Jane Austen Gift Shop. But what if you want to play music from the movie soundtracks? Surely these evoke the spirit of Jane Austen at least as much as the period pieces. Fortunately, many of these- from the original dances used in the movies- to sheet music of the film scores are easily obtained. Perhaps the most comprehensive collection of works is Jane Austen’s World published by Faber music. It includes: Emma by Rachel Portman- Frank Churchill Arrives Emma (End Titles) Sense and Sensibility by Patrick Doyle- My Father’s Favourite Devonshire All The Better For Her Excellent Notion The Dreame Pride and Prejudice by Carl Davis Pride & Prejudice Theme Canon Collins The Gardiners Summary Persuasion by Jeremy Sams Persuasion Main Theme Tristesse Italian Aria Another book, Jane Austen, the Music  includes a greater range of pieces from both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Its contents are: Sense and Sensibility Weep You No More, Sad Fountains A Particular Sum My Father’s Favourite Patience All the Delights (more…)
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The Regency Wedding Breakfast

During the Regency, weddings were often held first thing in the morning with the bridal couple and their guests returning home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast, a precursor to the modern wedding reception, before departing to their new home, or perhaps on their honeymoon. A noisy family breakfast… Jane Austen’s niece Caroline (daughter of James) gave a wonderful description of her sister Anna’s wedding to family friend Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814: “My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…Weddings were then usually very quiet. The old fashion of festivity and publicity had quite gone by, and was universally condemned as showing the bad taste of all former generations…. This was the order of the day. The bridegroom came from Ashe, where he had hitherto lived with his brother (the Rector), and with him came Mr. and Mrs. Lefroy, and his other brother, Mr. Edward Lefroy…. My brother came from Winchester that morning, but was to stay only a few hours. We in the house had a slight early breakfast upstairs, and between nine and ten the bride, my (more…)
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Christmas with Father Christmas

The modern idea of Santa Claus in his red suit, delivering gifts via reindeer pulled sleigh was crafted by Clement C. Moore in his 1823 poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas. This Santa was based on the Dutch Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and does not, until the mid 1800’s cross paths (and merge) with the “olde” English, Father Christmas. Father Christmas, in fact is the embodiment of the festive holiday season, with no specific religious attachment, though perhaps some slight druid leanings. He does, in fact quite resemble Charles Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas Present, also the embodiment of all the good of the season, albeit with a Victorian slant. This spirit, one of four to visit Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, is presented to the reader in Stave 3. The Ghost here begins the night quite young and robust and ages throughout the day– after all, over eighteen hundred of his brothers have walked before him, and this spirit’s life lasts but one day: “The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up (more…)
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The Beefsteak Club

The Beefsteak Club is the name or nickname of several 18th and 19th-century male dining clubs that celebrated the beefsteak as a symbol of patriotic and often Whig  (liberal) concepts of liberty and prosperity. The location of the current Beefsteak Club. The first beefsteak club was founded about 1705 in London by the actor Richard Estcourt and others in the arts and politics. This club flourished for less than a decade. The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established in 1735 by another performer, John Rich, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where he was then manager, and George Lambert, his scenic artist, with two dozen members of the theatre and arts community (Samuel Johnson joined in 1780). The society became much celebrated, and new members included royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: in 1785, the Prince of Wales joined. 1793 press report – “Club” and “Society” are used interchangeably. At the weekly meetings, the members wore a blue coat and buff waistcoat with brass buttons bearing a gridiron motif and the words “Beef and liberty”. The steaks and baked potatoes were accompanied by port or porter. After dinner, the evening was given up to noisy revelry. The club met almost continuously until 1867. Sir Henry Irving continued its tradition in the late nineteenth century. The first known beefsteak club (the Beef-Stake Club, Beef-Steak Clubb or Honourable Beef-Steak Club) seems to have been that founded in about 1705 in London. It was started by some seceders from the Whiggish Kit-Cat Club, (more…)
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The Swiss Family Robinson: “One of the most popular novels of all time”

Swiss Family RobinsonThe Swiss Family Robinson: “One of the most popular novels of all time” Johann David Wyss (28 May 1743 – 11 January 1818) is best remembered for his book The Swiss Family Robinson (Der schweizerische Robinson). It is said that he was inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but wanted to write a story from which his own children would learn, as the father in the story taught important lessons to his children. As a pastor, Wyss hoped to teach his sons family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Wyss’ attitude toward education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many of the episodes have to do with Christian-oriented moral lessons such as frugality, husbandry, acceptance, cooperation, etc. The adventures are presented as a series of lessons in natural history and the physical sciences, and resemble other, similar educational books for children in this period, such as Charlotte Turner Smith’s Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Further: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). But the novel differs in that it is modeled on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a genuine adventure story, and presents a geographically impossible array of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants (including the bamboos, cassavas, cinnamon trees, coconut palm trees, fir trees, flax, Myrica cerifera, rice, rubber plant potatoes, sago palms, and an entirely fictitious kind of sugarcane) that probably could never have existed (more…)