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See they come, post haste from Thanet

Lovely couple, side by side;

They’ve left behind them Richard Kennet

With the Parents of the Bride!

Canterbury they have passed through;

Next succeeded Stamford-bridge;

Chilham village they came fast through;

Now they’ve mounted yonder ridge.

Down the hill they’re swift proceeding,

Now they skirt the Park around;

Lo! The Cattle sweetly feeding

Scamper, startled at the sound!

Run, my Brothers, to the Pier gate!

Throw it open, very wide!

Let it not be said that we’re late

In welcoming my Uncle’s Bride!

To the house the chaise advances;

Now it stops–They’re here, they’re here!

How d’ye do, my Uncle Francis?

How does do your Lady dear?

Jane Austen

 

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The Marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth

One Reader’s Response

It is a truth universally acknowledged that upon turning the last page
of Pride and Prejudice the reader feels joy at seeing Elizabeth and Darcy
married, but upon closer examination can the reader admit reservations?

Professor Wallace is content with the assertion that Austen (just like
Mozart) wrote in a classical (or neoclassical) style in which the comic
ending was conventional. But isn’t a happy ending a kind of escapist
fantasy? I will a priori set aside minor factors which might account
cumulatively for the reader’s happiness at the end: in her study entitled
Jane Austen on Love, Juliet McMaster asserts for example: “In a discussion
of the erotic response of Jane Austen’s women to men, it is worth
considering her use of the rescue, which is often a stimulus to love.”
Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
To what extent do the readers of Pride and Prejudice respond to this or to
Darcy’s open manifestation of physical attraction to Elizabeth? Such a
question would be interesting to answer but it is beyond the scope of this
essay. Will modern, skeptical readers unwilling to accept the fairytale
ending look for problems over which Jane Austen might have glossed? Is the
excitement the reader feels at the satisfying conclusion to be tempered with
sober yet cynical thoughts about what marriage really entails and what
experience teaches us? Or does the very unreality of a happy marriage become
a satiric reflection on the very real limitations of society and
individuals? It appears reasonable to consider the ending as many critics
have, as both “romantic” and as a significant culmination of the moral
concerns of the plot. The prominence Austen gave to marriage as a subject
was not simply a matter of form: it was a social truth — marriage was the
origin of change for families and individuals. Pride and Prejudice does
not ignore the realities of marriage; in fact other less suitable marriages
are examined at length in the novel. Pride and Prejudice is a romantic
comedy, “comedy” here understood as the opposite of tragedy: a positive view
of life which presents happiness and ideals as possibilities. As in many
of Shakespeare’s plays, we have here a marriage which symbolizes
reconciliation and harmony. I venture to say that the response of the
reader proceeds (as in Much Ado About Nothing) from a consciousness of an
opposition first yielding anger and irritation to one producing pleasure and
vitality all the while realizing that things could have gone very wrong at
many points in the story.

I shall examine the different views of marriage and compare them to
Elizabeth’s view of a “happy marriage”, the marriage which of course takes
place at the end of the story. In the opening chapter we are immediately
offered a view of marriage as a purely economic contract:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man
may be on his first entering the neighbourhood, this truth
is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families
that he is considered as the rightful property of some one
or other of their daughters. (Chapter 1)

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
Immediately at work, Jane Austen’s irony hints that the first line is
not the universal truth but rather the opinion of the surrounding families.
The author knows our assumptions are that “feelings and views” or
affection ought to be the deciding factor but yet from the very beginning
she has established the important opposition: love and money. The word
“property” is particularly interesting here since it suggests an odd
relationship between husband and wife: one of possession. As modern
readers, we are most eager to oppose it to the idea of marriage as
partnership, a sort of moral contract not a property contract. Another
important view of marriage proposed in the novel is that of Charlotte Lucas:

I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to
him tomorrow, I should think she had as good a chance of
happiness as if she were studying his character for a twelve-month.
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions
of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar
beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always
continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of
vexation, and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of
the person with whom you are to pass your life.
(Vol.1, Chapter 6)

This cynicism and resignation in a woman of 27 may surprise us.
Charlotte is older, plainer and more desperate to find a husband. She will
follow her own advice in accepting Mr. Collins’s proposal almost
immediately. Questioned by Elizabeth, she replies:

You must be surprised, very much surprised — so lately as Mr.
Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it
over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not
romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and
considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I
am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people
can boast on entering the marriage state.

Elizabeth quietly answered, “Undoubtedly” — and after an awkward pause,
they returned to the rest of the family. Charlotte did not stay much
longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It
was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so
unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’s making two offers of
marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of his being now
accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not
exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when
called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to
worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating
picture! — And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her
esteem was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that
friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.
(Chapter 22)

 

Collins'- P&PWe know that Elizabeth’s judgment is very often fallible and she may not know what will make Charlotte happy; her view of felicity in marriage and Charlotte’s are obviously very different but even the reader cannot but wonder as to Charlotte’s decision of marrying a man whose “deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.” She has made it clear that what she wants in marriage is a modicum of material comfort and financial security and it is equally evident from the above passage that Elizabeth has but contempt for such concerns. Elizabeth’s exclamation: “Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte — impossible!” is the very expression of her complete incredulity at seeing her best friend marrying without affection. In this instance, Elizabeth echoes Jane Austen’s sentiments on the matter. In a letter to her niece Fanny Knight, Jane Austen wrote: “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” And later : “Nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love, bound to one and preferring another.” (November 30, 1814). Sadly, Elizabeth will resign to her friend’s situation. During her visit to the parsonage at Huntsford, she observes how cleverly Charlotte is acclimating to marriage to Mr. Collins: ” When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.” (Vol.2, Chapter 5). And a little later: “Elizabeth in the solitude of her chamber had to meditate upon Charlotte’s degree of contentment, to understand her address in guiding, and composure in bearing with her husband, and to acknowldege that it was all done very well.” (Vol.2, Chapter 5).

Another marriage offered to Elizabeth’s observation is that of her parents. Jane Austen offers here a chilling analysis of what amounts to a conjugal malaise; it seems certain of repetition in the next generation of couples, the Collinses and the Wickhams for example:

Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished forever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr.Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.

Bennets- P&PElizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible. But she had never felt so strongly as now the disavantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents, talents which rightly used might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife. (Vol.2, Chapter 19).

Here, Elizabeth’s observation reflects understanding of the function of marriage such as it was understood at the end of the eighteenth century, meaning that selection of a spouse is of crucial importance to the individual because it is the agent of a social purpose, which is the moral education of children. Finally there is the union of Lydia and Wickham which Elizabeth judges in these terms:

How Wickham and Lydia were to be supported in tolerable independence, she could not imagine. But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.
(Vol.3, Chapter 8)

In the last chapter of the novel, the narrative voice hints at a very tawdry future for Lydia and Wickham:

Wickham and Lydia- P&PTheir manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a cheap situation, and always spending more than they ought. His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her. (Vol.3, Chapter 19)

Undoubtedly we have to acknowledge that in Austen’s world defective persons make defective marriages. Stupid, shallow or self-obsessed characters invite conflicts or even worse non- communication, such as in Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s case. Unique and apart from that world, Elizabeth is an unusual woman with rare capacities for growth and individual self-sufficiency. She is not the average woman whose personality is shaped by prevailing notions of woman as the subordinate sex. Elizabeth, making her progress towards union with the hero invites the reader therefore to confront many previews of her own potential fate in the marriages of the older characters who surround her; and in this way we are given some inklings of the possibilities beyond the limits of the last page. Jane Austen doesn’t follow her women beyond the altar but there is nothing to keep the reader from imagining. When Elizabeth is regretting her lost chance of marrying Darcy, she reflects that “No such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was.” She has just envisioned what true connubial felicity really was:

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both — by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.
(Vol.3, Chapter 8)

She is not oblivious of the fact that he will have to be improved. Most notably as we find out later she will have to help him develop a sense of humor: “…she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin.” Some might bristle at the thought of Elizabeth checking herself and yet we know that her impertinence is exactly what Darcy admired in her :”Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence? — For the liveliness of your mind, I did.” Reciprocally she will learn from him. Theirs will be a true partnership. We also see that her new status impels her to be very protective of him when he is confronted with Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Phillips:

Elizabeth did all she could to shield him from the frequent notice of either, and was ever anxious to keep him to herself and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure, it added to the hope of the future; and looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.
(Vol.3, Chapter 19)

Wedding- P&PI think most readers find the thought of superior Darcy being protected by Elizabeth rather pleasant. In an ending looking resolutely to the future we see Georgiana Darcy herself learning from Elizabeth’s conduct as partner in the Darcy household:

Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen her way. By Elizabeth’s instructions she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband, which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself.
(Vol.3, Chapter 19)

The end of the novel is not offering a simplistic view of happiness but one which recognizes that, though the heroine might find contentment, things in Meryton, Longbourne, Huntsford and Rosings go on much as before on the whole. Throughout we have been asked to judge between material and moral criteria, yet at the end the heroine is rewarded with both and this adds to our pleasure in no small measure for as Lord David Cecil once remarked: “It was wrong to marry for money, but it was silly to marry without it.”

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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Exploring The Regency Debutante

The Regency Debutante

What is a Regency Debutante?

“Yes, Ma’am, all.”

 

“All! — What, all five out at once? Very odd! — And you only the second. — The younger ones out before the elder are married! — Your younger sisters must be very young?”

 

“Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. But really, Ma’am, I think it would be very hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have their share of society and amusement because the elder may not have the means or inclination to marry early. — The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive! — I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.”

Pride and Prejudice

The Regency debutante comes in very handy for authors like me, even though she is as individual as the writers who create her.
She can appear in any shape or size–within a framework of having the ability to attract “Mr. Right,” of course. (In other words, she can be anything as long as it’s attractive enough for the purposes of a romance.)

Half the fun of a Regency (or any romance) is being able to understand and relate to the heroine; therefore, she must be wonderful in some ways and definitely lacking in others; she must be attractive but not so perfect that you can’t believe in her; she must strike a chord in every female reader who picks up your book, and any writer can create such a character simply by making her human. That is the one thing we ALL have in common, our humanity, with all its foibles and faults.

But what is a Regency debutante? How is she different from other fictional heroines?

A dictionary will tell you that a debutante is “a young woman making a formal debut into society.”

Originally, this meant that the young woman was eligible for marriage, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle. Until 1958, debutantes in London were presented at court at the start of the social season. Only ladies who had already been presented were entitled to present another lady, which ensured the social exclusivity of the privilege. Most women were presented by their own mothers, but this would not be possible if their own mother had not been presented, or had died or was for any other reason unknown at court. Hence, it was possible to be presented, instead, by another eligible woman, provided she personally knew and could vouch for the lady being presented. Thus the idea of sponsoring girls for the season began among courtiers and like other court fashions and trends, trickled down to all the upper class, and eventually the middle classes as well. Therefore, in addition to debutantes properly so called, older women and married women who had not previously been presented could be presented at Court. A mother-in-law might, for example, present her new daughter-in-law.*


In our case, it is Regency society, and this is the other half of the fun of a Regency novel. No other time period was quite like the Regency; Jane Austen taught us how to poke gentle fun at it while also caring about those who were part of it; Georgette Heyer showed us ways to really turn up the volume (of fun), concocting plots full of characters plucked from many layers of that society

The interesting thing about the Regency debutante is that she could be most anyone from any middle-to- upper class home in England. Most of the time, the young lady would be from a monied family, and was therefore supremely ‘qualified’ to join the “marriage mart.” But she might also be hiding a bankruptcy—it wasn’t always easy to discover the truth in those days of slow travel and communication (by today’s standards).

Therefore, any country miss and her mama might aspire to a London “season” and there was always the chance of making an astounding success. (You see how it easily makes for the stuff of romance novels?)

So the Regency Debutante was any young lady of gentle birth making her “come out” into the wider society of adults of her community; If she were wealthy or could gather enough financial backing, (or had good connections) she could make that debut into London or Bath society, circles where the possibility of making a good match (marriage) were greater.

Not all Regency novels use debutantes as their heroines, but to understand what “the season” was about, one must recognize this formal female creature! She often was not in for fun and games, despite the whirl of social entertainments on her schedule, but if she happened to be pretty, and even more important, wealthy, then upper class society was sure to welcome her.

Another aspect that makes Regencies so enjoyable is the clothing needed for the debutante’s season. The quantity AND the quality–it all counted, and it all makes for fun reading.Furthermore, gowns worn for a court presentation to the Queen had to conform to elaborate standards, and even constituted their own catagory of fashion called court dress, which was highly formal. In particular, being prepared for the ritual included that the lady either carried feathers (usually in the form of an ostrich feather fan), or wore them as part of her headdress. These kinds of details, along with descriptions of social customs and manners, make delving into the era an experience you can enjoy again and again. Welcome to the Regency romance!

*****

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. 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.”

Illustration from Tom Tierney’s Empire Fashions Colouring Book a fascinating look at fashion from Jane Austen’s lifetime.

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The Legend of the Mistletoe

From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just

suspended with his own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same

branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most

delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick,

with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady

Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the

mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum.”

The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens

Sweet emblem of returning peace,

the heart’s full gush and love’s

release,

 

Spirits in human fondness flow and greet the pearly mistletoe.

 

Oh! Happy tricksome time of mirth, giv’n to the stars of sky and earth!

 

May all the best of feeling know, the custom of the mistletoe.

 

Married and single, proud and free, yield to the season, trim with glee:

 

Time will not stay … he cheats us so …

A kiss? … ’tis gone … the

mistletoe.

The poem above was written in December, 1826, and last line refers to the

custom of plucking a berry every time a kiss was stolen beneath the kissing

bough. Once the berries were gone, the kissing was over. By Victorian times,

the kissing bough was quite a complex construction. Five circles of wire

were joined together to form a globe, and evergreens were bound around the

wires. Apples were hung in the center and there could also be candles fixed.

A large bunch of mistletoe was hung beneath. It could also be decorated with

paper flowers. As there would be few flowers available in December in

England, paper flowers might have been popular Christmas decorations. The

mistletoe bough from 1794, however, is simply tied up and hung from the

ceiling.

Mistletoe or “the golden bough” was held sacred by both the Celtic Druids

and the Norseman. Once called “Allheal,” it was used in folk medicine to

cure many ills. North American Indians also used it for toothaches, measles

and dog bites. Mistletoe was the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity.

If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms

and maintained a truce until the next day. In parts of England and Wales

farmers would give the Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that

calved in the New Year. This was thought to bring good luck to the entire

herd.

Vikings dating back to the eighth century believed that mistletoe had the

power to raise humans from the dead, relating to the resurrection of Balder,

the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream that he was going to die. His

mother, Frigga, the goddess of love and beauty, was frantic about his dream

and said that if he died, everything on Earth would die. To ensure her son’s

safety, Frigga went to all of the elements (air, fire, water and earth, as

well as to all of the animals and plants) and asked them not to kill Balder.

In the same way a child would be heckled these days if his mother asked kids

not to pick on her child, Balder was teased and had things thrown at him. It

was thought that, because of his mother’s power, he was immune to harm.

Balder’s only enemy, Loki, found a loophole in Frigga’s request for her

son’s safety …Mistletoe. Mistletoe grows on the tree it attaches itself

to, and therefore has no roots of its own and could not be affected by

Frigga’s request. Loki made a poisoned dart with mistletoe, and tricked the

blind brother of Balder, Hoder, into shooting the arrow that killed Balder.

For three days, all the elements tried their hardest to bring Balder back to

life, but failed. Finally, the tears that Frigga cried for her dead son

changed the red mistletoe berries to white, raising Balder from the dead.

Frigga then reversed mistletoe’s bad reputation, and kissed everyone who

walked underneath it out of gratitude for getting her son back.

Another myth in mistletoe’s past comes from Britain. In the first century,

the Druids in Britain believed that mistletoe could perform miracles.

Mistletoe was used by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held

five days after the New Moon following winter solstice. The Druid priests

would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches

had to be caught before the touched the ground. The priests then divided the

branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them

over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek

festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. Mistletoe

was believed to have the power of bestowing fertility, and the dung from

which the mistletoe was thought to arise was also said to have “life-giving”

power. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the

twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never

marry.

Many believe that a couple who kisses underneath mistletoe will have good

luck, but a couple neglecting to perform the ritual will have bad luck.

Specifically, it is believed that a couple kissing under the mistletoe

ensure themselves of marriage and a long, happy life, while an unmarried

woman not kissed under the mistletoe will remain single for another year.

Maidens may place a sprig of the plant under their pillow at night in the

same manner a child places his or her lost tooth in anticipation of a visit

from the Tooth Fairy. Instead of exchanging teeth for money, however, the

sprig of Mistletoe allows women to dream of their Prince Charming. Burning a

mistletoe plant is also thought to foretell a woman’s marital bliss, or lack

thereof. A mistletoe that burns steadily prophesies a healthy marriage,

while fickle flames may doom a woman to an ill-suited partner.*

Create your own Mistletoe traditions by tying a piece of fresh Mistletoe

with bright ribbon and hanging it in your doorway; or, follow these

instructions to Jane Austen Giftshop!

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An Attempt at Rout Cakes

 

Every body in and about Highbury who had ever visited Mr. Elton, was disposed to pay him attention on his marriage. Dinner-parties and evening-parties were made for him and his lady; and invitations flowed in so fast that she had soon the pleasure of apprehending they were never to have a disengaged day…No invitation came amiss to her. Her Bath habits made evening-parties perfectly natural to her, and Maple Grove had given her a taste for dinners. She was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout-cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Goddard and others, were a good deal behind hand in knowledge of the world, but she would soon shew them how every thing ought to be arranged.
Emma

 

During the Regency evening parties were much the rage. The word rout, synonymous with large unruly gatherings, soon came to mean a fashionable assembly, or large evening party. Mrs. Elton, with all her Bath society ways, was quite pleased to find that, though country parties might be smaller (Recall Mrs Bennet’s four and twenty families), they were no less frequent.

Just as Afternoon Tea had it’s own rituals and recipes, Routs could be counted on to supply a few favorites. Rout Cake, a kind of rich sweet cake flavored with fruit, was created especially for the occasion. To create your own, try one of the following recipes.

Mix two pounds of flour, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currents, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with 2 eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin-plate floured: a very short time bakes them.

Rout Cakes
1¼ cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/3 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 small egg
½ tsp orange juice
½ tsp rose-water
1 tsp sweet white wine or sherry
1 tsp brandy
¼ cup currants

  • Set the oven to heat to 350.
  • Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.
  • Work in the butter to make a crumbly mixture, then add the sugar.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg until liquid.
  • Add the juice, rosewater, wine or sherry, and brandy. Stir well.
  • Then mix the liquids by degrees into the dry goods, to obtain a smooth dough.
  • Lastly mix in the fruit.
  • Put the cake mixture in small, neat heaps (3/4″ across) on a lightly greased baking-sheet.
  • Bake in the oven for 16-18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 16-20

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Wedding Cakes

The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it.
Emma

In her Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, references a letter from 1812 that tells how Maria Branwell and her cousin “intended to set about making the wedding-cake in the following week, so the marriage could not be far off.” In Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is appalled by the consumption of such rich food…and in his own house! But what would a Regency Wedding cake have looked like? How was the tradition of a wedding cake even started?

The wedding cake has been part of the marriage ceremony ever since medieval times. Originally they were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, this ‘wedding cake’ would have been thrown at the bride.

Around 1900 years ago the Romans began baking wheat and salt into a small cake to be eaten. During the ceremony the groom would eat part of a loaf of this barley bread and then he would break the rest over his bride’s head. This was taken as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for long life and many children. The guests would try and obtain a crumb for themselves as they too believed they would then share in the good fortune and future prosperity of the couple. It was only the children born to the couple whose marriage had been celebrated this way, that could qualify for high office in Roman culture. Not only did the cake give good fortune to the couple, it insured a bright future for their as yet unborn children.

As the wedding cake evolved into the larger, modern version, it became physically impractical to properly break the cake over the bride’s head. The tradition disappeared fairly quickly, though there were still reports in Scotland, as late as the 19th century, of breaking an oatcake over the bride’s head. It was also reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her!

In Medieval England, the wedding cake was described as a bread which was a flour-based food without sweetening. The breads were included in many celebratory feasts of the day, not just at weddings. No accounts tell of a special type of wedding cake appearing at wedding ceremonies. There are, however, stories of a custom involving stacking small buns in a large pile in front of the newlyweds. Stacked as high as possible the idea was to to make it difficult for the newlyweds to kiss one another over the top. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it was thought to symbolize a lifetime of prosperity. Eventually, the idea of stacking them neatly and frosting them together was adopted as a more convenient option.

It is told that later in the 1660’s during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name is now lost) visited London and was appalled at the cake-piling ritual. The chef, who was traveling through England at the time noticed the inconvenience of piling smaller cakes into a mound and conceived the idea of constructing them into a solid stacked system. This earliest tiered wedding cake utilized short-cut broom sticks to separate it’s layers. Since such an elaborate wedding cake needed to be prepared days in advance and because of the lack of modern refrigeration or plastic wraps, the wedding cake was frosted in lard to keep it from drying out. The lard was scraped off just before serving. In later years, sugar was added to improve the taste of the lard and allowed the lard to be left on the wedding cake as a decorative icing.

Wedding cake of Jessie Woodrow Wilson (daughter of American President Woodrow Wilson), who married Francis Bowes Sayre in a White House ceremony on November 25, 1913.

The wedding cake took yet another course correction when in the 17th Century a popular dish for weddings became the Bride’s Pie. The pie was filled with sweet breads, a mince pie, or may have been merely a simple mutton pie. A main ‘ingredient’ was a glass ring. An old adage claimed that the lady who found the ring would be the next to be married. Bride’s pies were by no means universally found at weddings, but there are accounts of these pies being made into the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies. The name Bride Cakes emphasized that the bride was the focal point of the wedding.

Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum (or fruit) cakes, with some variations. There was also an unusual notion of sleeping with a piece of wedding cake underneath one’s pillow which dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for the tradition of giving cake as a gift. Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow.

According to Jessemyn Reeves-Brown of the Costumer’s Companion, “Period cake recipes seem mostly to produce varieties of fruitcake involving large amounts of spice and alcohol as preservatives, which makes sense when you consider that slices of the cake had to survive being sent to absent guests, and that young ladies tucked slivers wrapped in napkins under their pillows so they would dream of their future husbands!”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high.                     It was served at the wedding breakfast.

The wedding cake as we know it today, with its successively smaller layers, its supporting glass or plastic pillars, fancy hand piped frosting, all came about in 1859, with a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters. As is the case with today’s brides, the celebrities of the time moved the public to emulate their fashions, starting with the wealthiest Victorian families first. Even for the nobility, though, the first multi-tiered wedding cakes were real in appearance only. Their upper layers were mockups made of spun sugar. Once the problem of preventing the upper layers from collapsing into the lower layers was solved, a real multi-tiered wedding cake could be created.

For a white icing, only the most expensive, pure refined sugars could be used; so the whiter the cake, the wealthier the bride’s family must be (as most sugar at the time was browner than today’s refined type). A pure white wedding cake also complemented the bride as the focal point of the wedding, since she too was wearing white as her own symbol of purity.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff tried this recipe out. Since the recipe didn’t specify what five pounds of fruit were to be used, they tried two pounds of raisins, two of apples, and one of currants. The wine chosen was cream sherry. Although Martha apparently made her cake as a single very tall layer (no wonder it took so long to cook), no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, so two 14″ layers were made and stacked after baking at 350 for an hour and a half. According to their website, such cakes were typically iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.

This easier recipe from 1859 provides a lovely white cake suitable to any number of occasions:

Brides Cake
A pound each of flour and sugar, half a pound of butter, and the whites of sixteen eggs,beaten to a stiff froth. Flavor it with rose water.

Rose Butter
Gather every morning the leaves (petals) of the roses that blossomed the day before, and put them in a stone jar in alternet layers with fine salt. After all the leaves are gathered, put a saucer or small plate into the jar, and lay in a good pound of butter,for cake or pudding sauce.It is a very good way of obtaining the flavor of roses,without the expense.

Baked FrostingA pound of the best white sugar, the whites of three fresh eggs, a teaspoon of nice starch, pounded, and sifted through a piece of muslin or a very fine sieve, the juice of half a lemon and a few drops of the essence. Beat the whites to a stiff froth, then add them to the sugar, and stir it steadily until it will stay where you put it. It will take nearly *two hours, maybe more. Dredge a little flour over the cake, and brush it off with a feather. This is to prevent the frosting from being discolored by the butter contained in the cake. Lay it on smoothly with a knife, and return the cake to the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes. From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, Mary Hooker Cornelius, 1859

Some history provided by Wedding Cakes by Maisie Fantaisie.

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A Time for War

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington: A Personal History
by Christopher Hibbert

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington is not an easy man to pin down in a biography, and quite a few people have tried to do so in the past. Hibbert makes a p good stab at this very difficult subject and the worst that could be said about his book is that it is the most recent of the Wellington biographies.

Why is Wellington such a difficult subject? Mostly because he had a long and very active career which spanned a broad range of activities. From a rather dreamy and unfocused youth, to an extremely focussed, and successful war hero, then finally as politician. Underlying this was a man of great contradiction. He had an innate sense of nobility and duty which led him to marry a woman he had not seen for nearly eleven years – yet he treated her appallingly during their marriage. His contradictory nature is also very evident in his career – he hated the very activity in which he made his name, war.

I think Hibbert makes a reasonable attempt at coming to grips with Wellington’s nature and its contradictions – but I often think the personal side of Wellington – most especially his treatment of his wife and family, are often left unsatisfactorily explained.

I see three reasons for that in Hibbert’s case. First, there is not enough room in 400 pages to fit in everything with sufficient explanation. Secondly, there are easier, more public and interesting things to dwell on, and finally I suppose, because it would fall too much into the realm of speculation. There is little documentary evidence apart from gossip, some letters between Wellington and his wife, and of course Wellington’s infamously indiscreet confessions to Mrs Abuthnot which were later published in her diaries.

I do feel that Hibbert catches much of the public side of Wellington, his love of women, his modesty and quietness and his kindness and loyalty to those loyal to him.

Hibbert has set the book out chronologically and makes an easy read of his subjects. He does muddle up the first and second marchionesses of Salisbury- Wellinton was friends with both. The first Marchioness (also known as Dow Sal) sent him the hunting uniform from her personal hunt. The Second Marchioness (Frances, also known as the Gascoigne heiress before her marriage) was also a good friend of the Duke’s.

Elizabeth Longford does do a better job of capturing the nature and contradictions of Wellington – but then she can claim some measure of relationship with him – the 1st Duke’s wife, Kitty, was a Pakenham which is the Longford family name. Longford’s biography does fill two substantial volumes. Phillip Guedella has also written a good biography about the man.

Wellington: A Personal History

by Christopher Hibbert

List Price: $18.00

ISBN: 0738201480

Perseus Press; 480 pages; June 1, 1999

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

The Secret Service in France

Though not an easy read, I did enjoy this book. The world of subterfuge is a truly murky place. Even with Elizabeth Sparrow’s relatively easy-going style it is, at times, difficult to unravel the complex relationships and payments, double crosses and so on.

This book is well set out and the topic is utterly fascinating. While I found it difficult to untangle the threads the subject was compelling enough to make it worthwhile.

Ms. Sparrow has made the divisions in sections and chapters well. (Visit Amazon.com for a complete index.)While you can read the book from start to finish for a complete overview, if you have a specific interest in a time period or place it is easy to pick up and read for that period. That is what I ended up doing.

Perhaps only giving four out of five stars is underselling the book because the topic is difficult and Sparrow does do a great job making sense of it. A very impressive job actually – it just didn’t grab me by the throat the way some other books do.

I would definitely recommend this book for those with an interest in the British History of this period or for people with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps even for people who just want to know how to be sly and cunning – there are some great tips!

Pair this with one of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries for a fun, historical look into the world of Regency espionage.

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

List Price: $24.95

ISBN: 0851157645

Boydell & Brewer; 352 pages; February 2000)

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites,

the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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