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Jane Austen’s Prayers

Jane Austen's Prayer

Jane Austen’s Prayers

It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.
Jane Austen

Before we get to Jane Austen’s prayers, a few words about the society of her day might be helpful. England during her lifetime (1775-1817), was considered a “Christian nation.” That is, unlike today, it was understood that most people had a working knowledge of the Anglican faith. It was the government-sanctioned religion, and mainstream.

This does not mean that all people were religious, of course, or even approving of the general moral codes of the nation. For example, the French painter and friend of Marie Antoinette, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée LeBrun said of London that, Sunday in London is as dismal as the climate. Not a shop is open; there are no plays, nor balls, nor concerts. Universal silence reigns, and as on that day no one is allowed to work nor even to play music without incurring the risk of having his windows broken by the populace, there is no resource for killing time but the public walks. These, indeed, are very well frequented.

The resentment in her tone is unmistakable. She goes on to describe these walks:

The women walk together on one side, all dressed in white; they are so taciturn, and so perfectly placid, that they might be taken for perambulating ghosts. The men hold aloof from them, and behave just as solemnly. I have sometimes come upon a couple, and have amused myself, if I happened to follow them awhile, by watching whether they would speak to each other. I never saw any who did.

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Christmas Day with the Austen Family

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.”
A Christmas Carol
, by Charles Dickens


Christmas did not become a national holiday in England until 1834–Seventeen years after Jane Austen left the world. However, it had been growing in popular observance for much longer, and during Jane’s lifetime was already a greatly anticipated holiday of wistful longings and merry-making; replete with customs, rituals, rites and superstitions, church-going and devotion—much like the holiday portrayed by Dickens in A Christmas Carol.

In fact, the one thing Victorian–and modern life have to offer that was lacking in Jane’s day (with regard to Christmas) is commercialism and unashamed exuberance, which only came with national recognition and a growing middle class, later in the nineteenth century.

In other words, Christmas was not yet commercialized, so that Jane Austen (and many others of her day) viewed it primarily as a sacred holiday. As the daughter of a pious clergyman she was schooled to understand it in all its Christian significance and beauty. (Being a man of the church did not necessarily mean that one was devout, but in Mr. Austen’s case, it did, and Jane herself appears to have taken her readings in The Book of Common Prayer quite seriously.)

Though the Victorians are usually credited with “inventing” our modern-day Christmases, it is more accurate to say they popularized it commercially. They did not invent any of the age-old traditions that had long been in place such as the Yule log, the roast goose and potatoes, or the Christmas pudding. Likewise, carols and caroling (called, “wassailing” or singing by “the waits”) were already long-entrenched customs, as were many others, including mistletoe , feasting, gift-exchanging, decorating with evergreens, and the like. What then, did the Victorians add? Primarily, “respectability” (by making it fashionable to observe Christmas); the Christmas “cracker” (still popular today), and the use of tall trees. Additionally, technology grew and enabled Christmas cards and prints to be exchanged, fueling the popularity of the holiday.

What Was Jane’s Christmas Like?

She most likely made tea for her family in the morning as was her custom; then went to church with them; helped with the great Christmas dinner, if she were to eat at home (rather than at Godmersham or another relative’s house), enjoyed a gift exchange with her siblings and close relatives and a good friend or two; participated in parlour games (Charades was a family favorite), with perchance a good card game, or even a dance, if it were held. She may have played carols on the pianoforte, joined the others to sit ’round the fire for storytelling or reading aloud; and she may have joined the family in prayer, perhaps reading one of her own making, aloud. The family would have enjoyed special food and a favorite brew, such as mulled cider or wassail at some point in the evening; and if company stopped by, all the better. In short, Jane and the Austen family enjoyed a festive day, and in fact welcomed all festivities during the full twelve days of Christmas. May you and yours do likewise!


Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an inspirational regency romance. Visit her website for more information about this, and her other books.

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Undress, Half Dress, Full Dress: Making Sense of It All

undress half dress

Undress, Half Dress, Full Dress: Making Sense of It All

When Lydia went away, she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty; but her letters were always long expected, and always very short.

Those to her mother contained little else, than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as made her quite wild; that she had a new gown, or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs Forster called her, and they were going to the camp; — and from her correspondence with her sister, there was still less to be learnt — for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.
Pride and Prejudice

Let us understand from the start that the term “Undress” did not signify being unclothed. Likewise, “Half Dress” did not mean one was literally half- dressed. The terms are categorical, not literal. Like Full Dress, their name referred more to function than a state of being. In which case you may ask, ‘What does it all mean?’

It means that there had to be a great many gowns in a genteel Regency lady’s wardrobe–regardless of the size of her fortune. Indeed, to be active in Society the necessity of owning a large wardrobe could hardly be avoided. In a small town such as Longbourne (where the Bennets lived) the categories no doubt overlapped more than they would, say, for a debutante in London. In addition, you will find a number of sub-categories of dress, and of course there would have to be variety within each category no matter where you dwelt, for there were different uses for each type of gown, as we shall see.

Having said that, one could argue that there are only two main categories of clothing for the Regency belle: Undress and Full Dress. In this “model”, Undress includes all of the gowns worn during the day, and what is otherwise called Half Dress. (Which is to say, the majority of clothing for daytime, and even perhaps, informal evening wear.)

Day gowns include any gown worn for the morning, walking out, shopping, carriage riding, or making calls. Full Dress, on the other hand, was for an evening ball, very fancy dinner, the opera or an appearance at Court. (The Royal Court, not a court of law.)

The chief difference between Undress and Full Dress was a lower bodice for the evening, but in practice full dress implied a whole ensemble; A short-sleeved empire-waisted, low-necked gown, (often of muslin but by no means restricted to such, silk, satin and other fabrics were also popular) and including evening gloves, a fancy headdress of some sort, a few jewels, a fan, perhaps a reticule, and satin slippers. Other accessories could also be worn or on hand: feathers, boas, shawls, scarves and fans, to name the most common.

The following gowns constituted Undress:

See the difference? In theory, you were in Undress in the morning, Half-dress in the afternoon, and Full Dress for evening events. Court Dress was also considered Full Dress, though it had extravagant requirements that no other occasion called for.

According to The Georgian Index, a wonderful online resource for Regency fans, Dinner Dress and Opera Dress fall into the category of “Half Dress.” And only “Evening, Ball and Court Dresses” passed as Full Dress. Is your head swimming, yet? If not, consider that the Riding Habit might not fit into any of the above, but simply constitute a category in its own right!

Ah, so many dresses, so little time! No wonder the all-important Regency “season” was a roller-coaster ride of entertainments, diversions and delights. A lady must needs have enough events to make use of such an extensive wardrobe, and enough gowns in her possession to attend them in “the mode.” Pity the poor chit who couldn’t follow protocol or dress for the occasion. Such was the challenge for families with more pretension than means, who wished to launch a Regency buck or belle into the swirl of the fashionable elite.

The Regency. There’s never been a time quite like it. You’ve got to love it!

Explore our costume section at our online shop for Regency clothing, patterns, and more!

Linore Rose Burkard is the Author/Editor of the monthly eZine, “Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.”. Ms. Burkard is also the author of the Regency Romance, Before the Season Ends, a ground-breaking book which combines the Regency with Inspirational Romance! The sequel to this book, The House at Grosvenor Square will be published in 2009.


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Preparations for a Ball: Regency Style

Love those elegant scenes of Regency Balls in Pride and Prejudice? What about the glamorous hair-do’s, the sparkling jewels and accessories? How did the ladies prepare themselves, beforehand? How long did it take? Read on to discover the secrets kept behind closed boudoir doors.

This excerpt from Before the Season Ends provides a glimpse of Ariana Forsythe, Regency debutante, preparing for an evening out with Mr. Phillip Mornay, known as ‘the Paragon.’ Mrs. Bentley is her wealthy aunt and sponsor for the Season. Although eagerly anticipated, Balls and other evening entertainments were certainly a most serious business– especially during one’s first Season!

[At length] Mrs. Bentley sought out her niece to direct her remaining hours in preparations for the ball that night. It seemed outlandish, but she insisted Ariana soak in a hot tub, and then quickly into and out of a cold one. She called this “polishing the skin.” [Note that drawing a bath in those days bears little resemblance to the task, today. The water had to be heated, first, and then laboriously carried in bucketfuls up the stairs to the bedchamber or dressing room until the tub was filled. A simple tub bath, in short, was never simple.]

Harrietta (the lady’s maid) then took over, trimming the nails on Ariana’s feet and hands, and supplying her with an enormous array of vials and lotions, perfumes and powders and other solutions. Some were for her face and neck, others for her hands, elbows, and even her feet!

[The lady’s maid would also have put the young lady’s hair into “papers” hours earlier–the Regency equivalent of rollers, and just as popular for curling the hair then, as rollers are, today. In addition, she would take out the papers, braid, comb and coax the hair into an acceptable style, and help put in place the pins, jewelery, or other manner of headwear that was necessary for an elegant style. Depending on the lady being dressed, she might also be called upon to help apply powders or a mild rouge to the face.]

Later Ariana was allowed a small meal, followed by tea. Then, to her surprise, Mrs. Bentley announced it was time to “earnestly prepare for the evening.” Ariana had to wonder what they had been doing all along, if not earnestly preparing for the evening!

They fussed over her hair, her chemise, her stockings, her gown. Mrs. Bentley had insisted upon a small corset; only wantons, she declared, did without them. But now she decided it needed to be tightened, and the gown was promptly removed; the stays were tightened; Once satisfied, they pulled the gown carefully back over her head and arms and smoothed it into place.

By the time the two women had finished pulling, pinching, poking and pressing, Ariana felt more than ready to face the ‘Paragon’. Her hair was coifed elegantly atop her head, with curled tendrils about her face. (Ariana wished she had jet black hair, but Mama said her lighter tresses matched the light in her eyes, and indeed, this night her words rang true.) Ariana was a picture of sparkling, beauteous youth.

Still, Mrs. Bentley insisted upon loaning her a matching set of jewels consisting of a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelet. And, as a last dignifying element, a tiara: a delicate, lightly embellished headpiece, which was placed gingerly over her head and fastened into place with pins.

When at last she stood quietly resplendent in a pale pink gown of satin and net, with elegant white gloves that reached past her elbows and pale pink satin slippers upon her feet, even Mrs. Bentley had to smile. “You do me credit, my gel,” she said, almost affectionately. “Even Mornay will be smitten, I daresay, eh, Harrietta?” “Oh, yes, ma’am!” breathed Harrietta, fully as pleased with the way Ariana had turned out as her mistress. “So tall and strikin’ as miss is, just like a princess!” Ariana’s aunt smiled. “I thought at first you were too tall,” she admitted, “but it turns out that ‘tall’ can be ‘statuesque’ as well!” Ariana was bustled out of the room and downstairs, to wait in the parlour.

We have all you need to prepare for a ball at our online giftshop,explore our popular costume section!

Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance, from which this article excerpt was taken. She spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book. Coming soon from Harvest House Publishers: A new edition of Before the Season Ends, (Dec. 2008) followed by its sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square.( April, 2009)Visit her website to learn more about Ms. Burkard, or to subscribe to her free monthly eZine, “Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.”


Regency Lady illustration by kind permission of Brenda Sneathen Mattox. To view her extensive line of historically and literary inspired Paperdolls, including Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, visit

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Modesty and the Regency Miss

Martha and I dined yesterday at Deane to meet the Powletts and Tom Chute, which we did not fail to do. Mrs. Powlett was at once expensively and nakedly dressed; we have had the satisfaction of estimating her lace and her muslins; and she said too little to afford us much other amusement.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Steventon, January 8, 1801

Some authors (not to mention book covers) would have you believe that to dress in Regency style was to be overly immodest or even exposed. I beg to differ.

The favorite fabric for a Regency gown was undeniably light-weight, being muslin-a very thin, soft cotton. Yet the Regency lady was no more exposed than she wanted to be. An amusing scene from the 1996 BBC Pride and Prejudice (Starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) occurs when Lydia has rushed into the hallway wearing only a chemise. The strait-laced Mr. Collins is forced to pass her on his way to the staircase and is, I believe, clearly scandalized. The scene is quite funny, and Lydia herself cannot stop laughing. But what did he find so shocking?

Was it the amount of cleavage in plain sight? Hardly, for a perfectly respectable evening dress could reveal as much. It was more likely the idea of having seen a young lady in her “underclothing” which unsettled poor Mr. Collins.

Half a century earlier, such a sight would likely not have brought the slightest blush to even the most prudish. During the 18th century, women were required to wear layers and layers of clothing consisting largely of underclothes: chemises, stockings, stays (corsets), hoops, panniers, and often many layers of petticoats. By the time of the Regency, costume had undergone a downright shocking reversal causing the heavy layers of underclothing to be discarded.

The change began in France, which in turn was taking its ideas from classical Greek and Roman styles of antiquity. There, women’s underclothing was in danger of becoming downright extinct–among the upper class, in particular. When this “Empire Style” crossed the channel into England, however, it became less risque, thanks to the more modest English, but the ideal of a long, straight dress, revealing the human figure beneath had still to be maintained. In short, all those petticoats from the previous century had to go. The same went for the long corsets, the hoops, the panniers.

What remained was a simple chemise, often accompanied by a short corset which served to raise and support the bust (a precursor to the modern bra), which in turn might be accompanied by a petticoat. This is where personal taste came into play. The long, straight line of the figure was the fashionable ideal and no bulky under-garments could be allowed to get in the way, but ladies could, and did, wear underclothing and the petticoat never disappeared completely from the female wardrobe. The Regency is famous in caricature for the lack of female undergarments, but this propensity of exhibitionism was far less common than the cartoonists’ of the day would have you think.

Most women, like Jane Austen herself, wore sufficient undergarments, and, indeed, dressed quite modestly. The Empire day-dress used sundry manner of textile trickery to conceal the bust (such as frills, lace, ruches, ruffs, and even light spencers) so that day garments were in particular extremely modest. The few who made do without the short corset and petticoat were probably given the most attention by newspapermen simply because they were, well, newspaperMEN!

Evening dress was more revealing, requiring a square, low bodice, but women were free to use shawls, scarves, feathers, veils and what-not (all of which came in an amazing array of sizes and styles, especially as the Regency wore on), so that they could easily appear more modestly if they so desired. Even to modern eyes, however, bodices from the day are revealing; but again this was mostly the case for evening wear, and more formal occasions. The scantily clad lady sitting in the library reading just wasn’t the way it went, no matter how romance novel designers choose to portray it!

There have always been people of poor taste, then no less than now. It was they who used the fashion “to an extreme”, who did not wear adequate underclothing, and who, unfortunately, represent the era to some minds. Even drawers were worn by women as early as 1804, (though admittedly not yet popular. They were taken from men’s clothing and considered coarse and crude). Princess Charlotte was discovered to use them, however, which (despite shocking the older set), did much to popularize them with the masses, who adored her.

Given a choice between a diaphanous Regency gown complete with a chemise and corset, and today’s style of clothing for junior’s, I would wager (if I wagered, though I do not!) that the Regency style would be more modest.

Explore our popular costume section at our online giftshop for dresses, spencers and more!

Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance that readers love. She spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book. Coming soon from Harvest House Publishers: a new edition of Before the Season Ends, (Dec. 2008) followed by its sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square.( April, 2009) Visit her website to read more great articles, or to subscribe to her free monthly eZine, “U pon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.”