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To Make Salamongundy


Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, took ill on Thursday, worse on Friday, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday, that is the end of Solomon Grundy.
James Orchard Halliwell  1842

It can only be speculation to suggest that this popular children’s rhyme alludes to the English salad, Salmagundi. However, the connection seems likely to me, given this dish’s potential in the wrong hands.

What you might ask is Salmagundi, and why the strange name?

Salmagundi is a salad of lettuce, cooked meat, anchovies, eggs and other condiments. It became popular in the 1700’s, Hannah Glasse gives three recipes in her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747). She says of the dish, ‘you may always make a Salamongundy of such things as you have, according to your fancy’.

*Mrs. Glasse’s recipe is very similar to Henry Howard’s 1726 instructions in England’s Newest Way in all Sorts of Cookery, which suggests veal, pickles, sorrel, spinach, chives, horseradish, and barberries. Still others from Glasse use apples, cucumbers, celery, watercress, pickled red cabbage, and pickled gherkins for vegetables, and pickled herring, cold pork, duck, or pigeons for meat. Mrs. Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (London, 1775) endorsed pickled herring and garnishes of butter in a pineapple shape. Dressings were usually oil and vinegar or lemon, and sometimes mustard.

 It’s easy to see that such permissiveness could allow the dish to become a bit of a dogs dinner; made on Monday, eaten on Wednesday, and you were dead by Friday?

 So Salmagudi is a salad, but that doesn’t tell us much about the strange name. The truth is nobody can be sure, but it’s pretty likely that it’s a corruption of the French term salmingondin, and this term itself may be taken from the Italian term salame conditi meaning pickled meat.

 Salmagundi seems to have fallen out of favor in the latter half of the 19th century, in line with a general rejection of all things French. This is unfortunate as it makes for a potentially pleasing salad.

To Make Salamongundy
Take two or three Roman or Cabbage Lettice, and when you have washed them clean, swing them pretty dry in a Cloth; then beginning at the open End, cut them cross-ways, as fine as a good big Thread, and lay the Lettices so cut, about an Inch thick all over the Bottom of the Dish. When you have thus garnished your Dish, take a Couple of cold roasted Pullets, or Chickens, and cut the Flesh off the Breasts and Wings into Slices, about three Inches long, a Quarter of an Inch broad, and as thin as a Shilling; lay them upon the Lettice round the End to the Middle of the Dish and the other towards the Brim; then having boned and cut six Anchovies each into eight Pieces, lay them all between each Slice of the Fowls, then cut the lean Meat of the Legs into Dice, and cut a Lemon into small Dice; then mince the Yolks of four Eggs, three or four Anchovies, and a little Parsley, and make a round Heap of these in your Dish, piling it up in the Form of a Sugar-loaf, and garnish it with Onions, as big as the Yolk of Eggs, boiled in a good deal of Water very tender and white. Put the largest of the Onions in the Middle on the Top of the Salamongundy, and lay the rest all round the Brim of the Dish, as thick as you can lay them; then beat some Sallat-Oil up with Vinegar, Salt and Pepper and pour over it all. Garnish with Grapes just scalded, or French beans blanched, or Station [nasturtium] Flowers, and serve it up for a first Course.
From Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, 1747

Jason’s Solomon Grundy
1 Head of Romaine Lettuce
1 head of  Iceberg Lettuce
4 cooked (rare) pigeon breasts
4 cooked chicken thighs
4 peeled hard boiled eggs
1 lemon
4 anchovy fillets
4 tablespoons of Pickled pearl onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Finely shred the lettuce and lay on a platter. Julienne the meats and lay upon the lettuce. Thinly slice the lemon and lay this over the meat, then arrange the anchovies over the lemon. Slice the eggs and layer these over the dish. Scatter the onion and parsley over the ‘mound’. Just before serving dress the salad with a classic French dressing.

Adapted from Jason Campbell’s article on Salamongundy listed on Nicebites, and reproduced with their permission.

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Make A Regency Gown


In an age before preprinted patterns, dressmakers would look at the illustration of a gown in a fashion plate or magazine and make a pattern based on the picture. If they were lucky, a fashion doll (not unlike Barbie,for so many of us!) would be available wearing a small representation of the fashionable style, which the seamstress could then study to better understand the construction of the gown. “Draping a Toile” was the term used when the seamstress created a pattern by simply draping and pinning inexpensive fabric to create a sample of the dress, from which the actual gown can be made. A “toile” was simply the mock up of the gown before it was finished.

The following pattern should be attempted only by experienced sewers. The illustration shows a blue and white striped silk gown with velvet appliqué. It is possible to make this with the included pattern– but only after enlarging it (click on the pattern to see it full size, and ready to print) to the size indicated…and “draping a toile”. So go ahead– what are you waiting for? Create a dress the way Jane Austen’s would have been made!

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Sew a Walking Cloak

Walking cloak
Beautiful, bright red walking cloaks were common countryside wear for several decades during extended Georgian era. Well-established garb by the onset of the Regency, they lasted well into the 1830s, although they were somewhat out of style by then. They were made of wool and often had large hoods. They remained the cold weather “coat” of choice– much warmer than the Spencer or Pelisse, which sought to take their place in fashionable society.*

The Bennet sister’s cloaks in P&P2
were based on Diana Sperling’s
entertaining illustrations of life in
the country. Mrs. Hurst Dancing &
Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-23

This cloak pattern comes from Mike Horrill, at Aldebaran. It uses simple measurements to create an amazingly authentic cloak. If a more detailed pattern is to your liking, try Simplicity Pattern 5794.

Walking Cloak Making Guide.

The Semi-Circular Pattern.

This pattern is a little more complex that the basic rectangular pattern but it does produce a very nice cloak without too much effort. I have used it to make three cloaks so far and will probably make more in the future.

My favorite for this one is crushed velvet. Other than that I would recommend either cotton or poly-cotton. You can use pretty much any material but really cheap fabrics tend not to hang very well.


  • 4 yards of 60 inch wide fabric.
  • Cotton.
  • Some form of fastener.


  • Chalk for marking out.
  • A length of string (5 ft).
  • Sharp scissors.
  • Pins.
  • Sewing machine. You can sew this pattern by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine but it will take a long time.

Take the fabric and cut out the pieces of the walking cloak as shown. It is possible to get all the pieces out of 4 Yds of fabric and have a small strip left at the end. To mark out the body sections use a length of string and a pin to act as a giant compass. (Make sure you don’t get stretchy string though!)

Cloak 02

This pattern produces a walking cloak with a lined hood. The instructions here assume that the hood will be lined with the same material that the cloak is made from so that it will appear the same from both sides. If you want to line the hood with a different material simply cut two sections for the hood from the main material and two from the lining material you wish to use.

Body Sections (Cut 2).

Cloak 03

Hood Sections (Cut 4).

Cloak 04

If you are using a fabric which has a right and wrong side such as velvet cut half the pieces so that they are mirror images of the other half. If you are using a plain material it doesn’t matter as you can just turn the pieces over to obtain the mirror images.

Firstly take the two body sections and sew them together to form a semi-circle.

Cloak 05

Next take the sections for the hood. Sew two of them together along the longer of the straight edges to form the shape shown below and repeat for the other pair (If you are lining the hood with a different material you should have one pair of the main material and one pair of the lining material). Now sew the two sections you have together with the back of the material towards the outside leaving it open along the edge indicated.

Cloak 06

Now turn the hood the right way out. The next stage is to sew the hood onto the body of the cloak. Take your time lining the hood up so that the seam up the back of the hood lines up exactly with the seam along the back of the cloak or the cloak will look odd and the hood will tend to twist round while you are wearing it.

Once you have attached the hood hem up all the way down both sides and all the way along the bottom edge (this is where the sewing machine really comes in useful).

Finally attach the fastener just below where the hood joins the body of the cloak.


An alternative method of cutting the pattern for this cloak was suggested by Dave Pope.

Unless you LIKE running very long seams up the back of you costumes (eg. cloaks), I would suggest using the standard pattern cutting technique of FOLDING the fabric along the line that will form the center of the back (CB).

Not only does this reduce the number of cuts you have to make by half, but it also helps to ensure that both halves of the pattern are the same.

Also, by doing this you reduce the amount of fabric you need (see diagram below).

Cloak 07

*From Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

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English Lavender Water – History and Recipes

English Lavender Water – History and Recipes

Martha left you her best Love; she will write to you herself in a short time; but trusting to my memory rather than her how, she has nevertheless desired me to ask you to purchase for her two bottles of Steele’s Lavender Water when you are in Town.”
Jane Austen from Steventon to Cassandra at Godmersham
14 January 1801


To the Victorians, Lavender meant “Devotion”, however, it’s symbolism and popularity stretch back to ancient times. French Lavender was most probably that referred to in classical Roman times as a bathing scent, and it is from this that the plant is said to have derived its given name from the Latin lavare, to wash. In the Middle Ages, Lavender was attributed with the properties of Love. Records indicate that Lavender wasn’t cultivated in English gardens until around 1568, it’s popularity grew rapidly, once introduced though, and it was included in the listed plants the Pilgrims brought with them to America. Since the Elizabethan era Lavender has been widely used in potpourris and sachets to fragrance and freshen linens and the home. Continue reading English Lavender Water – History and Recipes

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The Carpenter

Captain Harville was no reader; but he had contrived excellent accommodations, and fashioned very pretty shelves, for a tolerable collection of well-bound volumes, the property of Captain Benwick.
His lameness prevented him from taking much exercise; but a mind of usefulness and ingenuity seemed to furnish him with constant employment within.


He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children; he fashioned new netting-needles and pins with improvements; and if everything else was done, sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room.

From Persuasion, By Jane Austen

The following article is from “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

There is no art more useful than that which is exercised by the carpenter. It is his business to cut, fashion, and join timber and other wood for the purpose of building. There are several kinds of carpenters: but the term is usually applied to those who perform the rough work in the building of houses; such as hewing out, and putting in their places, the beams, rafters, joists, &c.: and those who do the lighter kind of work, as the making of doors, wainscoting and sashes, are called joiners: most of those, however, who are brought up to the trade are both carpenters and joiners.

The wood which they principally make use of is deal, oak, elm, and mahogany.

Deal is the wood of the fir tree, and is chiefly brought from Sweden, Norway and other Northern European countries. The most common species of fir trees are the silver-leafed, and the pitch, or Norway, or spruce fir. The first of these grows in many parts of Germany, from whence turpentine is sent into England; but the most beautiful are those that grow on mount Olympus. The Norway fir produces the white deal commonly used by carpenters: from this pitch is also drawn; when it takes its second name.

Oak is too well known in this country to need any description; it is chiefly used by ship-builders, of who we shall speak hereafter.

Mahogany is a species of cedar: it is a native of the warmer parts of America, growing plentifully in the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Domingo. In some instances these trees grow to so large a size, as to be capable of being cut into planks of six feet in breadth: they rise to immense heights, notwithstanding they are sometimes found growing on rocks where there is scarcely any depth of earth.

The carpenter stands in need of a great variety of tools, such as saws, planes, chisels, hammers, awls, gimlets, &c. Common workmen are obliged to find their own tools, a set of which is worth from ten to twenty pounds, or even more. But for different kinds of mouldings, for beads, and fancy work, the master carpenter supplies his men with the necessary implements.

The practices in the art of carpentry and joinery are called planing, sawing, mortising, scribing, moulding, &c. The great difference in the trades of a carpenter, and a joiner, is, that the former is employed in the larger, stronger, and coarser operations, and the latter in the smaller and more curious works.


The carpenter in the plate is represented in the act of planing the edge of a board, that is held in to the side of the bench by means of a screw which is always attached to it. On his bench ar the hammer, pincers, mallet, and the two chisels; a box also containing the turkeystone with which he sharpens his tools: the shavings taken off by his plane are scattered on his bench and on the ground: at the right hand corner stand some boards, and his bag in which he carries his tools: on the other side is the saw, upon the four-legged stool which he uses for various purposes. Behind him is a new door, some other boards, a saw hanging against the wall, and a basket in which he puts his smaller tools.

He is represented preparing boards to lay upon the roof of a new house in the back ground. The rafters are already in their places: the boards are to be laid next, in order to receive the slates.

The art of sawing, and the different kinds of saws made use of, will be described when we come to speak of the sawyer.

A mortise is a kind of joint, in which a hole of a certain depth is made in the thickness of a piece of wood, in order to receive another piece called a tenon.

Scribing is a term made use of when one side of a piece of stuff is to be fitted to the side of some other pieces which is not regular. To make the two join close together all the way, the carpenter scribes it; that is, he lays the piece of stuff to be scribed close to the other piece he intends to scribe it to, and opens his compasses to the greatest distance the two pieces any where stand from each other; then bearing one of the legs against the side to be scribed to, with the other led he draws a line on the stuff to be scribed. Thus he gets a line on the irregular piece parallel to the edge of the regular one; and if by a saw, or other instrument, the wood be cut exactly to the line, when the two pieces are put together they will make a neat joint.

Planing consists of taking off, as occasion may require, all the rough edges from wood, boards, &c. A plane consists of a piece of boxwood, very smooth at the bottom, serving as a stock, or shaft; in the middle of which is an aperture for a steel edge, or very sharp chisel, to pass. This edge is easily adjusted by a stroke of the hammer at one of the ends of the stock.

Planes have different names, according to their forms, sizes, and uses; as the

Jack-plane, which is about eighteen inches long, and intended for the roughest kind of work:

The long-plane is two feet in length: it smoothes the work after the rough stuff is taken off: it is one of this kind that the carpenter in the plate is represented using, and it is well adapted for smoothing the edges of boards that are to be joined:

The smoothing-plane is only six or seven inches long, and is used on almost all occasions.

The rabbet-plane cuts the upper edge of a board straight or square, down into the stuff, so that the edge of another, cut after the same manner, may join with it on the square.

Besides these there are the ploughing-planes, moulding-planes, round-planes, hollow-planes, snipes’-bill-planes, &c.

Glue is a very important article in the carpenter’s and joiner’s trade. It is made of the skins of all kinds of beasts, reduced to the state of jelly; and the older the animal, the better is the glue that is made of its hide.

A ship-carpenter is an officer at sea, whose business consists in having things in readiness for keeping the vessel in which he is stationed, in repair; and in attending to the stopping of leaks, to caulking, careening, and the like. He is to watch the timber of the vessel, to see that it does not rot; and in time of battle he is to have everything prepared for repairing and stopping breaches made by the enemy’s cannon.

A journeyman carpenter, when he works by the day, receives from three shillings and sixpence to four shillings and sixpence a day.

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December in Austen’s Regency Bath

December in Regency Bath

Jane Austen’s December in Regency Bath

December has arrived and despite all the frantic busyness, the instinct is to be retrospective, to take a long last look down the way we have come. The turning of any year – whether 2001 or 1805 – marks the end of a cycle.

Jane Austen’s last frugal lodgings here in Regency Bath were a stone’s throw from the most elegant and stylish shops outside London. Bath’s commercial backbone runs up from the Colonnades to Union Street, and from Bond Street into Milsom Street, meeting the shoulders of Edgar Buildings at the top. In distance, it’s only a few hundred sloping yards, but every step of the way is paved with gold. “Why here one may step out and get a thing in five minutes!” – as long as you have the spending power, of course. Continue reading December in Austen’s Regency Bath

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July in Regency Bath


“Westgate Buildings! And whom, pray, is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? A mere Mrs Smith, an everyday Mrs Smith? Upon my word, you have the most extraordinary taste!”

Westgate Buildings


Well, yes, perhaps we have got strange taste. This month we begin our walk by slumming it down in the unfashionable end of town, so no wonder Sir Walter is appalled. On a hot and humid Saturday morning in July 2001, the mean lodgings of Anne Elliot’s invalid friend, with their dingy lace curtains over the café, do not look prepossessing. Hereabouts, then, down near the Avon with its “putrid fevers”, the widowed Mrs Smith lived, as she still does, for the fictional world of a well-loved classic bestows its own immortality. After the painful bout of rheumatic fever, Anne’s old school friend is confined to a noisy parlour and dark back bedroom, only quitting the house to be carried down by the bath attendants to the Hot Bath over the street.

The Hot BathsWe have only to negotiate that same urban street to find ourselves in a dark, incohate muddle of Palladian courts and construction engineering. The Cross Bath and Hot Bath bring us to the very edge of the city itself. Suddenly, beyond the wire fence, there is a gaping hole in the ground where warm, copper-coloured water gushed out of a pipe into a culvert. This is where Bath all began long, long ago, and this is where the future starts. For here, over the site of the old Hot Bath, where Jane Austen’s fictional poor widow found ease for her rheumatic pain, soon there will soar a vast pleasure dome celebrating the hot springs, a multilevel spa with pools and steam baths,Construction jacuzzis and hydrotherapy suites is planned to carry bathers into the twenty-first century. Look at this display in the window – look at the drawings of the architects’ dreams, tinted with rich shades of honey and aqua blue, and it’s all going to be completed in two years’ time – or maybe three.

“No, it isn’t going to be FREE”, mutters an elderly Bath resident, catching the fag end of conversation as he shuffles along the pavement on his way through to the shops in Marchant’s Passage.

Bath has never been a levellers’ city. The high and the low are as much a social fact of life here as the hills and springs are to its geography. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would have looked up at the distant lofty heights of her home on Camden Crescent with a gentle but heartfelt sigh at the unfathomable workings of Providence. And what had her former schoolmate, the fair-minded and fine-looking Miss Hamilton, done to deserve her present lowly situation? What had she, Anne Elliot, done to deserve that infinitely superior perch in the fresh, pure air of Camden, up to which she must now make her unwilling ascent?

The climb from river to heights begins up Sawclose, past the imposing faccade on the left. Jane first knew this as the house of Mr Beau Nash, a celebrated past Master of Ceremonies. But in the year of Trafalgar, the year of Nelson-fever, her fourth as Bath resident,Heiling Court it was to open as Bath’s new Theatre Royal. The seats were expensive, probably beyond Jane’s means. But then was not the whole of life – or at least of Bath her theatre? Fine, as long as she could keep on the critics’ side of the footlights.

She would have avoided the crowded scenes of Milsom Street. At this time on a summer Saturday, when shadows and tempers are at their shortest, the eagerness for retail therapy will be rising to a fever pitch. We can sense Jane Austen’s spirit more in the leafy corners of Queen’s Square, and in the graceful upward curve of Gay Street, and round into George Street, along the raised pavement by Edgar’s Buildings. At last, dusty and hot, Jane and her creation Anne stand at the foot of the fearsome hill of Lansdown.

They are both young women still – only twenty-seven years old – but how quickly in this heat one is fatigued. For once it is Jane, the flesh and blood woman, whose voice we can hear: “What dreadful hot weather we have had ! It keeps me in a perpetual state of inelegance!”

“There, take my arm, that’s right! I do not feel comfortable if I have not a woman there!”


Up the HillAdmiral Croft is here – in Jane’s imagination, at least – to accompany her up beyond Belmont, where the raised pavement seems to want trip one up ahead.In real life, however, no such aid was at hand. In 1805, the men were still all at sea, chasing the French across the Mediterranean. “You men have difficulties and privations and dangers enough to struggle with”. Jane’s sailor brothers sent money and topaze crosses, but all through the tense summer of 1805 she would be kept hovering over the newspaper for the whereabouts of Frank’s ship, the Canopus. Her heart turned over every time she thought of her brothers’ danger. How could she complain about merely walking uphill in all the white glare of July in Bath?

Excelsior! Anne Elliot would never murmur complaints. Ah, but Anne Elliot is fiction. Her creator, who says in fact that “pictures of perfection make me feel sick and wicked,” sometimes feels like complaining. The last leg of the climb above Guinea Lane will seem endless, even to one who has been outstriding a certain energetic Mrs Chamberlayne up Sion Hill a couple of summers before. Life to all of us – and Jane Austen was emphatically one of us – can be at times like climbing the Hill of Difficulty – to get to a Heaven one would never deserve anyway.

Camdem Crescent Rounding the corner, the gleaming perfection of Camden Crescent is reached at last. The big frontage with its Doric columns is as white and regular as an Elliot smile. Shall we follow Anne inside to the marble-floored interior, where her sister and Mrs Clay are sneering at all creation below them, over a cold collation? Anne creeps in, noticed only by the footman, and disappears from the glare of noon. After all, “She was only Anne”

The View Jane has plans for Anne’s future happiness, even if this story has to wait five, ten years like the grit in the oyster shell that produces a pearl in the end. What is the point of being a writer of fiction if she can’t, like her favourite Cowper’s view of God, move in mysterious ways her wonders to perform? And while she works out reward and rescue for her sensitive solitary heroine, she’ll sit and muse on this seat by the railings and look back over the terrace, over the march of chimneys and the tops of the trees.

On a clear day like this, it’s worth the climb, after all – not to feel superior, but to see the whole pattern.

Sue Le Blond has been a teacher since 1973. She loves to teach and enjoys enthusing about JA and literature in general. While now working a few days each week at the Jane Austen Centre, she spends the rest of the week at Chippenham College teaching English. At present she is studying Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes at University of Bristol. Sue lives in Bradford-on -Avon with her husband, two teenage children, and lovely cats.

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Sense and Sensibility

Is it all about self-control?

The Dashwood Family, from left: Elinor, Marianne, Marguerite, and Mrs. Dashwood.

“The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex.” Thus begins the story of two sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood with an emphasis on family, sense of place and society. Forced into reduced circumstances by the sudden death of their father, the Dashwood sisters and their mother move from their home in Sussex to Barton Cottage in Devonshire. Before leaving Sussex, an attachment has been formed between Elinor, the eldest, and Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law’s brother. In Devonshire, the youngest sister Marianne meets and falls in love with the handsome Willoughby. Both relationships encounter problems: Edward Ferrars has been engaged for years to Lucy Steele whom he feels bound to marry out of a sense of duty, and Willoughby mysteriously disappears. Upon learning of Willoughby’s checkered past and his recent marriage to an heiress, Marianne becomes gravely ill.Happy Couple Things work out in the end: Edward, released from his engagement is free to marry Elinor, and Marianne recovered from her illness, realizes the error of her infatuation and eventually marries the much older Colonel Brandon.

Just as easily as I sketched the story line of Sense and Sensibility, critics from the start have been quick to reduce the theme of the novel to a polar opposition: head versus heart. In its contemporary and original review The British Critic wrote: “The object of the work is to represent the effects on the conduct of life, of discreet, quiet good sense on one hand, and an over-refined and excessive susceptibility on the other.Thomas HobbesI hope to show that things are not so simple. The two words of the title are not there by chance: they represent a literary tradition which Jane Austen was very much aware of. In the seventeenth century, philosophers had become preoccupied with the problem of whether man is a wholly self-centered and self-seeking being. Thomas Hobbes believed man was naturally bad. His pessimistic view of human nature held that if man was self-seeking and depraved, enlightened despotism was needed to curb men’s passions. Contrarily, Anthony Ashley Cooper Shaftesbury and his followers held that man was naturally good, possessed an innate moral sense, and that consequently it was society which was at fault (an idea which lead to Rousseau and the French Revolution.) In the realm of literature such ideas would lead to Romanticism and its attendant emphasis on sensibility and imagination as well as its valuing of human impulses expressed freely. In light of this, we could say that today’s society believes Shaftesbury rather than Hobbes.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) (on right, his brother is on the left.) Picture taken from:

But what of Jane Austen and her society? In Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, Professor Butler argues that by the end of the seventeenth century (i.e.: Jane Austen’s formative years) both world views were battling it out and were in favor alternatively. Shaftesbury’s ideas gave rise to the Sentimentalists (1760’s -1770’s) a group of writers identified as individualistic, libertarian and anti-social. Their novels were seen by many as dangerous because they were vehicles for moral relativism. Samuel Johnson and the conservative critics regarded them with great suspicion because, as Marilyn Butler points out, the sentimental tendency “is indeed to work against the exercise of the ethical sense, and actively to enlist the reader, by half conscious and almost subliminal means, in the party of unlimited toleration.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, wife of Godwin, Mother of Mary Shelley.A glimpse at William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft will help us get a sense of the war of ideas being waged about the time Jane Austen began to write. Professor Butler characterizes Godwin, political essayist and novelist, in the following terms: “Instead of the sentimentalist’s benevolent intuition or fellow-feeling, he believes in the conscious, willed understanding as the essentially human thing, the guarantee of man’s dignity and his sole hope for improvement. He minimizes those aspects of man’s nature which limit the freedom of his mind, such as the pleasures of the senses, tastes and ‘involuntary affections’, which include emotional attachments to family and friends.” As for Mary Wollstonecraft, she writes, in A Vindication of the Rights of Man: “Sensibility is the mania of the day, and compassion the virtue which is to cover a multitude of vices, whilst justice is left to mourn in sullen silence, and balance truth in vain…”

Emma Thompson as Elinor In such a philosophical and literary climate, how does Jane Austen give shape to her characters? Does she truly view reason as being more important than feeling in female affairs? Yes– but not cold Cartesian reason but rather understanding, observation, reflection and poise. The importance of reason in the novel seems to be borne out by the obvious fact that Elinor, the sensible one, is the privileged focus and that the narrative voice, though seemingly objective, is on her side. This is apparent immediately beginning with chapter 1:

“Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counselor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught. Marianne’s abilities were in many respects quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever, but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great. Emma Thompson as ElinorElinor saw with concern the excess of her sister’s sensibility, but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.”Kate Winslet as Marianne; Greg Wise as Willoughby.What seems significant in this description of the sisters and mother is the accumulation of words such as understanding, judgment, govern, sensible, moderation, prudent, struggle, exert, strive and forbearance: words seeking to express the degree of effort these women are willing or unwilling to put forth to control the feelings they all have (including Elinor). As a quintessential romantic, of course Marianne deems such efforts as un-natural. Why deny one’s good and true nature simply to please or fit into society? Such are the values in conflict in this “didactic” novel: self versus society. Elinor (and Jane Austen) are on the side of society and politeness. This is what Elinor, who is only nineteen, desires for her sister when she deplores: “Her systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as her greatest possible advantage.” (Chapter 11). Upon learning of the pleasant outing Marianne had visiting Mrs. Smith’s house, Elinor repeats her lesson: “…the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.” (Chapter 13). Oddly, Elinor will consent to lie when politeness requires it. (Chapter 21).Hugh GrantBesides civility it is understanding, the power of observation and goodness which are valued when Elinor admires Edward with a bit of Marianne-like enthusiasm: “…he has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right […] The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent […] I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure.” (Chapter 4). She also esteems Colonel Brandon because he is “a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and I believe possessing an amiable heart.” (Chapter 10). Her intelligence and method guarantee that she will first think and then hope.

Greg Wise as John WilloughbyReflecting upon the probability of Marianne and Willoughby being engaged secretly, Elinor does not jump to conclusions: “…and Elinor was then at liberty to think over the representation of her mother, to acknowledge the probability of many, and hope for the justice of all.” (Chapter 15). Her self-control and concern for others also allow her to be the comforter of others in their distress. Most importantly for her, reflection leads to happiness: “She who had seen her week after week so constantly suffering, oppressed by anguish of heart which she had neither courage to speak of nor fortitude to conceal, now saw with a joy which no other could equally share an apparent composure of mind, which, in being the result as she trusted of serious reflection, must eventually lead her to contentment and cheerfulness.” (Vol. 3, Chapter 10). The young woman who seemed so much older than her age can indeed feel joy. She is not cold or devoid of feelings. She betrays warmth when she speaks of Edward:Hugh Grant “I do not attempt to deny,’said she,’that I think very highly of him –that I greatly esteem, that I like him.” And when Marianne bursts with indignation at her expression of lukewarm feelings, Elinor responds: “…be assured that I meant no offence to you by speaking in so quiet a way of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared; believe them, in short, to be such as his merit and the suspicion — the hope of his affection for me may warrant without imprudence or folly.” (Chapter 4).

Here and throughout the novel we witness a softening of the opposition between sense and sensibility, as Ian Watt has remarked. Elinor has feelings and emotions but they are kept in check. Upon meeting Edward at Barton: “His coldness and reserve mortified her severely; she was vexed and half angry; but resolving to regulate her behaviour to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection.” (Chapter 16).Elinor and Edward Elinor is aware of the temptation to self-righteousness. To follow reason does not mean she will impose her “correct”” view on others: “I will not raise any objections against anyone’s conduct on so illiberal a foundation as a difference in judgment from myself for a deviation from what I may think right and consistent.” (Chapter 15). Elinor can even feel momentary regrets at not being more like her sister: “…and Elinor, in spite of every occasional doubt of Willoughby’s constancy, could not witness the rapture of delightful expectations which filled the whole soul and beamed in the eyes of Marianne without feeling how blank was her own prospect, how cheerless her own state of mind in the comparison, and how gladly she would engage in the solicitude of Marianne’s situation to have the same animating object in view, the same possibility of hope.” (Vol. 2, Chapter 4).

Elinor and EdwardThe reader has access to Elinor’s consciousness and knows of her constant struggle to remain the voice of reason in the household. After reading Willoughby’s and Marianne’s correspondence “she was silently grieving over the imprudence which had hazarded such unsolicited proofs of tenderness, not warranted by anything preceding, and most severely condemned by the event…” (Vol. 2, Chapter 7). Her efforts at sparing her family all are finally revealed when she declares to Marianne: “You do not suppose that I have ever felt much. For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature, knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least […] If you can think me capable of ever feeling, surely you may suppose that I have suffered now.” (Vol. 3, Chapter 1).

Greg WiseIt is, however, without doubt, in the scene where she hears Willoughby’s confession that the sensible Elinor allows herself to listen to her heart: “Willoughby, he whom only half an hour ago she had abhorred as the most worthless of men, Willoughby, in spite of all his faults, excited a degree of commiseration for the sufferings produced by them, which made her think of him as now separated forever from her family with a tenderness, a regret, rather in proportion, as she soon acknowledged within herself, to his wishes than to his merits. She felt that his influence over her mind was heightened by circumstances which ought not in reason to have weight: by that person of uncommon attraction, that open, affectionate, and lively manner which it was no merit to possess; and by that still ardent love for Marianne, which it was not even innocent to indulge. But she felt that it was so, long, long before she could feel his influence less.” (Vol. 3, Chapter 9). Such a scene contributes in no small part to increasing the reader’s sympathy for Elinor who is, at times, in danger of appearing too insensitive and even boring to us readers who have read the Brontes and other assorted Romantics.

Elinor and MarianneI have focused on Elinor, showing how she displays both sense and feelings, but there are also a few passages describing Marianne as “sensible and clever” as quoted above in chapter 1. Reason and sense are good things, it seems, but they do not preclude feelings as long as those feelings are examined prudently, kept in check, and not allowed to cloud the judgment of a person or to shock or offend society. Both Elinor and Marianne have a bit of both: sense and sensibility. The fact that Marianne elicits our sympathy in spite of her seeming foolishness would tend to show that Jane Austen valued both sense and sensibility, the latter perhaps in spite of herself. Elinor and EdwardI will end with the wonderful scene at the end of the novel where we see Elinor overwhelmed by feelings as she discovers that Lucy and Robert Ferrars are newly married and that Edward is free: “Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.” Her joy is intense, yes, but as a young lady always aware of decorum, she remembers not to run and to shut the door. (Vol. 3, Chapter 12).

Françoise Coulont-Henderson teaches French language and literature in a small liberal arts university in the US. She has discovered Jane Austen late in life.

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