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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!
 Images from the author's collection: 'The Robin', and  'Saturday Night' - a humble family studies their Bible. The  Affectionate Parent's Gift, and Good Child's Reward, T.Kelly, 1827.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Jane Austen was born on a snowy winter’s night at Steventon Rectory at Hampshire, on 16 December 1775. She was the daughter of clergyman George Austen and Cassandra Leigh, who had eight children: James, George, Edward, Henry, Francis (Frank), Cassandra, Jane and Charles.
The rectory at Steventon had a front door which opened into a small parlour, where Mrs Austen sat busily making and mending clothes. A dining or common sitting-room was at the front of the house, and George Austen had a study overlooking the garden. 
Steventon Parsonage.

Jane was very happy living at Steventon. She had the run of her father’s extensive library (over 500 volumes), and her family encouraged her to write - Austen’s juvenilia and early satirical works are full of fun. Early versions of her novels Sense & Sensibility (Elinor and Marianne), Pride and Prejudice (First Impressions), and Northanger Abbey (Susan) were all written at Steventon. 
Jane shared a bedroom with her sister Cassandra upstairs, where there was another small sitting-room or ‘dressing-room’ which, Jane’s niece Anna Lefroy recalled, ‘opened into a smaller chamber in which my two aunts slept. I remember the common-looking carpet with its chocolate ground, and painted press with shelves above for books, and Jane’s piano, and an oval looking-glass that hung between the windows; but the charm of the room with its scanty furniture and cheaply painted walls must have been... the flow of native wit, with all the fun and nonsense of a large and clever family’ (W. & R.A. Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, Smith, Elder & Co., 1913). 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Hyde Park

In Jane Austen’s day, at about five o’clock in the afternoon, in London people of fashion loved to promenade in the public parks such as Hyde Park. In June 1806 ladies paraded with ‘hats and tiaras of white satin and various coloured silks’, and ‘turbans, bonnets and straw hats...‘tastefully ornamented’ with roses, lilac and hyacinths, according to La Belle Assemblée. Kensington Gardens were popular, too, but St James’s Park was no longer fashionable.

The very ‘best’ society like the Prince Regent and his friends drove their carriages there. Captain Gronow (1794–1865 recalled that after the Peninsular War, many ladies were seen driving in Hyde Park ‘in a carriage called a vis-à-vis, which held two persons. The hammer-cloth, rich inheraldic designs, the powdered footmen in smart liveries, and a coachman who assumed all the gaiety and appearance of a wigged archbishop, were indispensable’. 
The crowds headed home again about three o’clock.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Off To Gretna Green!

A Clandestine Interview.
This week I've written a guest post for the British Newspaper Archive blog on a true-life thrilling 19th century elopement - that of Mr Giles, a penniless comedian, and Augusta Nicholson, a rich heiress. Elopements were standard newspaper fodder in Jane Austen's day. In Scotland, it was legal for people as young as sixteen to marry without their parents' consent. The village of Gretna Green, just over the Scottish border, was easily accessible and it was famous for runaway marriages. In Pride and Prejudice, George Wickham famously runs off with flighty Lydia Bennet after an earlier unsuccessful attempt to elope with Mr Darcy's sister
News reaches Longbourn that Lydia and Wickham have been found.
Georgiana. When Lydia first disappears with Wickham, she leaves a note to say that they are going to Gretna Green. The Bennet family are upset but philosophical about Lydia’s ‘imprudent’ marriage, but when news reaches them that the runaways have not gone to Gretna, her parents ‘believe the worst'. Darcy proves that he really loves Elizabeth Bennet when he goes to London to ensure that her sister Lydia marries Wickham.
Illustrations by Hugh Thomson.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Vauxhall Gardens

Tom and Jerry visit Vauxhall Gardens.

Vauxhall Gardens, on the banks of the River Thames about a mile and a half from the centre of London, were still hugely popular in Jane Austen’s day. A visitor in 1810 paid 3s 6d for admission; the gardens opened on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and thousands of people gathered there in the evenings. American Benjamin Silliman was enchanted when he visited Vauxhall and explored its
Chinese Pavilion, Vauxhall.
illuminated groves. He found a scene ‘splendid beyond description…exceeding all that poets have told of fairy lands and Elysian fields…a flood of brightness was poured out from ten thousand lamps, whose flames were tinged with every hue of light’.
The evening’s main concert began at 8 p.m., followed by a waterworks display and cascade. After more music, a bell announced the start of a firework display. The orchestra was in the form of a Grecian temple and was lit by 4,000 lamps.
Views of Vauxhall.
Visitors ended their evening with a cold collation in one of the alcoves or ‘boxes’. Vauxhall’s ham slices were famously meagre, as Silliman discovered: ‘the ham was shaved so thin, that it served rather to excite than to allay the appetite’. (A Journal of Travels in England, Holland and Scotland… in the Years 1805 and 1806, Boston, 1812).

Jane Austen doesn’t seem to have visited the gardens, but she does mention them in her juvenilia (Lesley Castle).
All images from the author's collection.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

'Chit-chat, and Quarterly Reviews'

Today I'm guest-blogging on the fabulous Austen Variations website, courtesy of Jane Odiwe, whose new book Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar is out now. Austen Variations, a website for writers and readers, focuses on 'Austen-related fiction, the Regency Period and Romance'. My guest post 'Chit-chat and Quarterly Reviews' looks at reading habits in Jane Austen's day. There was a huge proliferation of popular magazines such as the Lady's Magazine, the long-established Gentleman's Magazine, and Ackermann's Repository
You can enter a competition to win a free copy of my new book A Visitor's Guide To Jane Austen's England, so do visit Austen Variations to leave a comment with your favourite Austen quote! The winner will be announced on the Austen Variations Facebook page on 15 November.

Full dress for September 1798, Lady's Monthly Museum.
The critic William Gifford, Gentleman's Magazine, February 1827.

Friday, 7 November 2014

A Frivolous Distinction

Promenade dresses, 1812.
The latest issue of Jane Austen's Regency World includes my feature on going shopping in Jane Austen's day. And if you love Regency-era fashion, my new book A Visitor's Guide To Jane Austen's England includes detailed fashion advice for genteel ladies and gentlemen.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Jane Austen and Bath IV: The Assembly Rooms

Assembly Rooms, Bath.

'Oh, who could ever be tired of Bath!’ gushed Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland. There was plenty of entertainment for an impressionable young lady like Catherine in Austen's day. 
Balls were held twice weekly at the Upper and Lower Assembly Rooms in season; card games were played on the other nights of the week, except Sunday, when the rooms were opened for promenading.   
The Lower Rooms or Harrison’s Rooms dated back to 1708; they burnt down in about 1820. 
Harrison's Rooms plaque.
Chandeliers in the Assembly Rooms.
The Upper Rooms, also known as the New Assembly Rooms, were built in 1771 by John Wood. 
The Upper Rooms can still be seen today; they are home to the Fashion Museum.
Visitors to Bath also enjoyed going to the theatres, which were open in the evening after dinner, or they could listen to a concert in the Upper Rooms. In 1812 a ticket for all nine concerts at the Upper Rooms in the winter season cost 2 guineas.

Regency-era Gowns, Bath Fashion Museum.

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland was introduced to Henry Tilney by the master of ceremonies of the Lower Rooms. Henry was ‘a most gentleman-like young man’ with a ‘pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address [manner] was good, and Catherine felt herself in good luck’.  
Photos © Sue Wilkes.