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Mrs. Bates’ Baked Apples

The bake house at Chawton cottage shows the types of ovens used by the Austen family. The bake house was quite often a detached building as an added measure of safety against fire and to preserve the house from the heat of year round baking.

Inside the bakehouse at Jane Austen's Chawton home.
Inside the bakehouse at Jane Austen’s Chawton home.

“There is nothing she likes so well as these baked apples, and they are extremely wholesome, for I took the opportunity the other day of asking Mr Perry…” Miss Bates rattles on to Emma about Jane Fairfax’s enjoyment the apples sent by Mr. Knightley. As the Bates’ had no bake house, they were obliged to rely on Mrs. Wallis to bake their apples, though in reality, they are a simple dish to prepare. You may wish to pair this dish with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and cookies.

baked apples copy


To Bake Apples Whole
Put your apples into an earthen pan, with a few cloves, a little lemon-peel, some coarse sugar, a glass of red wine: put them into a quick oven, and they will take an hour baking.
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1747

  • 4 Medium sized Apples
  • 12 Cloves
  • 1 ½ tsp Lemon Peel
  • 57 g / 2 oz / ¼ cup Brown Sugar
  • 240 ml / 8 fl oz/ 1cup Red Wine or Apple Juice, divided

Preheat your oven to 177° C / 350° F.
Continue reading Mrs. Bates’ Baked Apples

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Hannah More and Jane Austen: Mary Crawford and Jane Fairfax

Hannah More was a notable figure in her day, her opinions and and beliefs on all matters moral and political being widely read, courtesy of the numerous  tracts and pamphlets she published. As a reading woman, Jane Austen would have been well versed in these hotly debated issues of the day, such as  slavery and women’s rights.

Although she rarely writes directly about social issues in her novels, here are two examples of where I see Jane Austen subtly demonstrating herself to sharply diverge from Hannah More on some important matters of morality and religion. A short time ago, Alistair Duckworth directed me to a complex allusion in Mansfield Park to Hannah More’s lengthy 1791 tract  An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World. Subsequently I delved more deeply into Austen’s literary reactions to that tract, and focused in particular on the following passage where Hannah More trained her sights squarely on “the fashionable world” and its role as a moral corrupter:

“…prudent skepticism has wisely studied the temper of the times, and skilfully felt the pulse of this relaxed, and  indolent, and selfish age. It  prudently accommodated itself to the reigning character, when it adopted sarcasm instead of reasoning, and preferred a sneer to an argument. It  discreetly judged, that, if it would now gain proselytes, it must show itself under the bewitching form of a profane bon-mot; must be interwoven in  the texture of some amusing history, written with the levity of a romance, and the point and glitter of an epigram; it must embellish the ample margin with some offensive  anecdote or impure allusion, and decorate impiety with every loose and meretricious ornament  which a corrupt imagination can invent. It must break up the old, flimsy system into little mischievous aphorisms, ready for practical purposes; it must divide the rope of sand into little portable parcels, which the shallowest wit can comprehend, and the shortest memory carry away.”

All of the underscored words resonate in some significant way to the Crawfords in Mansfield Park, in particular to Mary. But what is most interesting is how Jane Austen seems to go along with that thinking in terms of how Edmund and Mary parse moral situations, and yet at other times she seems to put the shoe on the other  foot. How? Look at the word “indolent” or “indolence”, which is used far more in Mansfield Park than in any other Austen novel–many of the usages describe Lady Bertram, who seems to be the quintessence of indolence. And look at the word “selfish”, which is used several times in the same novel to describe Henry Crawford, and also, with such cruel and absurd unjustness, by Sir Thomas to refer to Fanny.

There are, however, other usages of those terms which come out of the mouth of Mary Crawford, and they pertain to her brother-in-law, the clergyman Dr. Grant. Here are Mary’s two comments about Dr. Grant which sound to me like veiled allusions to More’s 1791 tract:

“…And though Dr Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and, I dare say, a good scholar and clever, and often  preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, I see him to be an indolent, selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in everything; who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one; and who, more over, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife. ……It is indolence, Mr Bertram, indeed. Indolence and love of ease; a want of all laudable ambition,of taste for good company, or of inclination to take the trouble of being agreeable, which make men clergymen. “

And for good measure, even before Mary utters these judgments on her brother in law, we have the acid-tongued narrator pointing the way:

“It delighted Mrs Grant to keep them both [i.e., Mary and Henry} with her, and Dr Grant was exceedingly well contented to have it so: a talking pretty  young woman like Miss Crawford is always pleasant society to an indolent, stay-at-home man; and Mr Crawford’s being his guest was an excuse for drinking claret every day. “

And, apropos Mary Crawford’s reference to Dr. Grant’s “palate”, it turns out that in Coelebs, we even have the morally scrupulous protagonist himself opining about this very subject of palate consultation in a similar way:

‘Surely,’ said I, ‘ (L’Almanac des Gourmands at that instant darting across my mind,) ‘it is as honourable for a gentleman to excel in critical as in culinary skill. It is as noble to cultivate the intellectual taste, as that of the palate. It is at least as creditable to discuss the comparative merits of Sophocles and Shakespeare, as the rival ingredients of a soup or a sauce.”

What I hear in all of the above is Jane Austen’s hoisting Hannah More on her own rhetorical petard—if it is fair game for More to take a critical close look at the behavior of the fashionable world epitomized by Henry and Mary Crawford, it should also be fair game for a canny observer from the fashionable world, like Mary Crawford, to take an equally critical close look at the behavior of the clergy, who are in More’s way of seeing things supposed to be  the moral shepherds for the rest of us, and to point out that it’s no so simple as More presents, in her claiming that the fashionable world is the biggest culprit. Or, to indulge myself for a moment in some wordplay, what’s good for the goose (whether green or not) is also good for the gander!

A second veiled allusion to Hannah More which I find in Austen’s novels is in Emma, and is in the famous retort by Jane Fairfax to Mrs. Elton about governessing being akin to slavery: “the sale—not quite of human flesh—but of human intellect…”

It turns out, perhaps to the surprise of some, that Hannah More wrote a short and very odd satirical essay sometime during the 1790’s entitled The White Slave Trade, subtitled Hints toward framing a Bill for the Abolition of the White Female Slave Trade, in the Cities of London and Westminster. The piece is a little too long to reproduce here, but the gist of it is that it takes the real-life noble movement (of which More was herself a strong supporter) to abolish the enslavement of Africans on English colonial plantations, and issues a mock-exhortation to extend that same thinking in order to liberate women from the exigencies of “Fashion”, which is the “arbitrary, universal tyrant” she blames for the “slavery” that white Englishwomen endure during courtship and marriage. She takes the metaphor very far, referring to chains, enforced exile from one’s home, crowded courtship meat market milieus like Catherine Morland experiences in the Pump Room in Bath as being akin to slave trade ships crammed with slaves and slave auction markets, etc etc. She takes particular notice of “coming out”, which of course is what Tom Bertram and Mary Crawford discuss in Mansfield Park. It’s clear to me that Jane Austen has read this essay, and is playing with it in the scene when Jane Fairfax makes her famous comment, and Mrs. Elton calls herself a “friend of the abolition”.

Here is the climax of More’s piece; I will give my brief remaining comments at the end :

From all the above causes it is evident, that the white slave trade has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. Till, therefore, there be some hope that a complete abolition may be effected, the following regulations are humbly proposed: —

I. That no slave be allowed to spend more than three hours a day in preparing her chains, beads, feathers, and other implements for the nightly labour.

II. That no slave be allowed to paint her person of more than two colours for any market whatever.

III. That each slave be allowed at least sufficient covering for the purposes of delicacy, if not for those of health and comfort.

IV. That no /little /slave be compelled to destroy her shape, and ruin her health, by being fastened to different instruments of torture, for the sake of extracting sweet sounds, till some time after she can walk alone; and that in her subsequent progress she be not obliged to sit or stand at it more than half her waking hours.

V. That no slave be put under more than four posture masters, in order to teach her such attitudes and exercises as shall enable her to fetch more money in the markets.

VI. That no slave be carried to more than three markets on the same night.

VII. That no trader be allowed to press more slaves into one /hold /than three times as many as it will contain.

VIII. That the same regard to comfort which has led the black factor to allow the African slaves a ton to a man be extended to the white slaves, who  shall not be allowed less than one chair to five slaves.

IX. That no white slave /driver, /or horses, be allowed to stand in the street more than five hours in a dry night, or four in a rainy one.

X. That every elderly female slave, as soon as her youngest grandchild is fairly disposed of, be permitted to retire from her more public labours  without any fine or loss of character, or any other punishment from the despot.

To conclude: — the Black Slave Trade has been taken up by its opposers, not only on the ground of inhumanity and impolicy, but on that of Religion also.  On the two first points alone have we ventured to examine the question of the White Slave Trade. It would be a folly to enquire into it on this last  principle; it /can /admit of no such discussion, as in this view it could not stand its ground for a single moment; for if that principle were allowed  to operate, mitigations nearly approaching to abolition must inevitably and immediately take place.


There are two levels on which I see Jane Austen critiquing More. First, I think Mrs. Elton is a veiled representation of Hannah More, to illustrate the hypocrisy of a woman who would not realize that it was grossly insensitive to think that this satire was appropriate on any level; and also because of missing the point entirely, which is that there were plenty of injustices wreaked on Englishwomen in that era which were real, substantial and awful. So More in her essay has somehow managed to be offensive both to brave abolitionists like Clarkson and Sharpe, and also to  women like Jane Austen who saw the true source of oppression of Englishwomen as being the patriarchal male-dominated power structure.




Arnie Perlstein is an independent scholar (still) working on a book project about the SHADOW STORIES of Jane Austen’s novels (and  Shakespeare’s plays).Visit his blog, for further Austen sleuthing.


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Emma: The Girl that Jane Liked

Emma: The Girl that Jane Liked

Episode 1

Finally, North American viewers have the chance to see the long awaited 2009 BBC production of Emma, three months after its release in the UK. A click on imdb will find no less than 15 different versions of this popular Austen work. Yet another one? It just naturally leads one to question, why? After seeing this first episode, let me give it a shot: just because it’s so much fun to do.


That’s how I felt as I watched the PBS broadcast on
. This newest adaptation of Emma is probably the best I’ve seen, and Romola Garai easily the best-cast Emma so far. Yes, I’m comparing her with Gwyneth Paltrow (1996) and Kate Beckinsdale (1996, TV). She may well be one of the best-cast Austen heroines for their roles in my opinion, let’s just say, neck and neck with Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet.


What a difference from her guilt-ridden Briony in the movie
Atonement. Well, Garai’s Emma is guilt-ridden too as the errant, over-confident matchmaker, but her genuine heart and willingness to own up to her misjudgment have made her personality shine through.


In creating Emma, Austen had said that “I’m going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” Seems like this adaptation does a great service pulling us over to Austen’s side. Garai’s Emma reflects the probable reasons why the author found her character likable: vivacious, charmingly clueless, and above all, her readiness to admit faults, her genuine heart towards herself and others. Garai’s animated performance is most apt in a comedic genre such as this. In this first episode, the irony and humor have come through.



The impressive cinematography matches perfectly the personality and atmosphere of the novel, brisk, agile, fun, and, as Mr. Knightly narrates in the beginning, golden. That is just the kind of colour scheme for a clever comedy, the exact reflection of its main character. As a comedy, a little exaggeration in the colours is acceptable and quite effective I think. Overall, the visuals are captivating, beautiful shots of the English country landscape, the well situated mansions and their interior renderings. I’ve particularly appreciated the few overhead shots, and some of the contrasting darker scenes in the beginning.


And yes, the beginning is where a film can captivate right away. I enjoyed screenwriter Sandy Welch’s treatment of the plot, drawing out three characters, Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax, who had all lost their mother as a young child, and focusing on how markedly different their lives have turned out.


For the casting of Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightly, however, I had a little reservation, in the first episode anyway. The sparks between Emma and him look more like sibling bickering than the undercurrents of subliminal lovers’ quarrels, which Austen so brilliantly depicts. The 16 years of age difference is almost unobservable here, although in real life they are ten years apart. Despite this, I enjoyed Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of the conflicting Mr. Knightly, at times detached, at times involved, and at times, exasperated.


Michael Gambon is excellent as the fastidious Mr. Woodhouse. The legendary actor has delivered a convincing performance as an endearing but taxing hypochondriac. As for Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax, I’m afraid my preference is the
1996 TV production’s casting of Samantha Morton and Olivia Williams in these roles.


This first episode struck me as a lively, contemporary rendition. While screenwriter Sandy Welch chose to use more modern language in her dialogues, I don’t think she needed to stray too far from the original to achieve this. As I’m re-reading
Emma for these screenings, I find the book very accessible for modern readers, the characters are those whom we can relate to, their motives and emotions very similar to what we are familiar with. Austen’s skills in observation and her intelligence in depicting human nature and her characters’ inner world are simply impressive, considering she was writing almost a hundred years before Freud and the birth of modern psychology.



Episode 2

‘An authentic human being’ is how the host of Masterpiece Classic Laura Linney describes Emma. Jane Austen’s characters have no supernatural powers, she notes. But herein lies the magic of her writing. She takes the ordinary and draws out the unnoticed features. From these everyday characters like you and me, she skillfully displays the intricacies woven in their interactions, and reveals the undercurrents of hidden intentions and desires. It is in the revealing of the subtext that makes her story so captivating even for us modern day readers.


Episode 2 continued with this interesting story as we see Emma confused by her own feelings towards Frank Churchill, Harriet’s shifting admiration for the same, Frank Churchill’s seemingly open admiration for Emma, Mr. Knightly’s growing sentiments for the same, and, Jane Fairfax’s hidden anguish, ignored by the subject of her desire. It seems that everyone’s feelings are mixed up with everyone else’s. The comedy of errors gathers momentum.


In this segment, cinematography continues to be a major contributor to the storytelling. I particularly appreciated the several Vermeer moments, like the one with Emma gazing out the window deep in thought, or the camera silently capturing her playing the pianoforte, immersed in diffused light. I’ve also enjoyed how the visual reveals inner thoughts. Mr. Knightly’s longing is projected by the flashback of his dancing with Emma, shifting to the single swan in the pond, warm music enfolding… a beautiful cinematic moment where the visual and music communicate effectively without words.


Mrs. Elton is animatedly played by Christina Cole. In terms of comedic and obnoxious effects, she is of her husband’s equal, a good match indeed. While Rupert Evans is proficient in portraying a sly Frank Churchill, he does not look like the one I have in mind. But that is not important. My main concern is with the role of Jane Fairfax. This second episode confirmed my misgiving from the beginning. I feel there is a miscast here. I miss her elegance, poise and subtleties as described by the author. She is supposed to be Emma’s worthy rival after all.

The dance at The Crown Inn is a delight to watch. That is also the occasion showing everybody’s true colours. Here, Mr. Knightly proves himself to be one considerate gentleman as he invites Harriet to dance after she is slighted by Mr. Elton. Also, we’re beginning to see Mr. Knightly more and more in love, while the object of his desire remains relatively clueless, albeit a sense of appreciation has arisen in her confused heart. The dances are fun to watch too, much more lively and convivial than t

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