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Friday, 23 December 2016

Merry Xmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope you all have a peaceful break with family and friends.
'The road is gay now'. Hugh Thomson illustration of a frosty scene for Mary Russell Mitford, Our Village, Macmillan & Co., 1893.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Treasures on Display: Jane Austen Among Family and Friends

Exciting news for Janeites, especially if you live in, or plan to visit, London in the New Year! To mark the bicentenary of Jane Austen's death, the British Library will stage a new display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.
For the first time in four decades, the three notebooks which Austen kept of her teenage writings, plus family letters and memorabilia, will be reunited and on display to the general public.
Volume the First includes short plays and stories such as 'The Beautiful Cassandra'; Volume the Second includes Austen's wonderful 'History of England By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian', 'Lesley Castle', and 'Love and Freindship'; and Volume the Third includes 'Effusions of Fancy' and 'Catharine'.
Austen's writing desk will also be on display with these treasures from the British Library and Bodleian Library collections.
'Jane Austen Among Family and Friends' will be on show from 10 January 2017 – 19 February 2017.
Image from Austen's 'History of England', with illustrations by Cassandra Austen, courtesy of, and copyright, the British Library.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Lansdown Crescent, Bath

'Could it be Mr Elliot? They knew he was to dine in Lansdown Crescent. It was possible that he might stop in his way home, to ask them how he did'.  This mention of Lansdown Crescent in Persuasion is a testament to Mr Elliot's eligibility, as it was a very fashionable street.
The Historic and Local New Bath Guide (1802) describes the Crescent (at one time known as the Upper Crescent) as a 'grand and stately pile of buildings that seems to crown the city'.
Residents enjoyed picturesque views of the 'town sloping to the Avon; on the west, the valley winding towards Bristol, diversified by the hands of nature and art in the most elegant manner; hills swelling over hills, and vales intersecting vales, adorned with woods, lawns and gardens, display their several charms'.
In April 1805, after attending church, Jane Austen and her mother visited the Irvine family at 19 Lansdown Crescent to take tea with them.One of the Crescent's more famous residents (several years after Jane Austen's death) was William Beckford, the author of Vathek.
Image: The Album of Bath Views, Charles, Reynolds & Co., c.1890.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Catholic Emancipation

If you were a Roman Catholic (or Dissenter) during Jane Austen’s day, your social opportunities were very limited owing to the Test Acts. During the late 17th century, legislation was introduced so that only Anglicans could hold public office (military or civil), go to Oxford or Cambridge University, or study law. So Catholics (and Dissenters and Jews) were in effect banned from many professions. Catholics could not inherit land, or have their own schools. (The Book of Common Prayer still included a special service giving thanks for the nation’s deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot by rogue Catholics in 1605).
The Prince of Wales’ secret marriage to Catholic actress Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 put his succession to the throne in jeopardy – luckily for him, their union was illegal under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. 
By late Georgian times, religious groups began campaigning to repeal the Test Acts. But popular sentiment was against change – people believed that the church and state would be endangered if Catholic ‘emancipation’ was 
The Gordon riots.
granted. When even modest reforms were proposed, violent ‘No Popery’ protests, such as the ‘Gordon Riots’ of 1780, broke out in England and Scotland. It was not until 1829 that the Catholic Emancipation Act swept away most remaining civil disabilities for non-Anglicans.
An encounter between Mrs. Fitzherbert and Mrs. Schwellenberg (the Queen’s lady-in-waiting) each with a ‘second’: the Prince of Wales, his hands on his lady's waist, and William Pitt holding out a lemon to the furious German lady. C.1789. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-6452.
‘No Popery’ rioters burn down Newgate prison during the Gordon Riots of June 1780.  Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Vol. VI, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1864.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Birth of Landscape Gardening

Rousham Park.

Temple of Echo.
Last weekend we enjoyed a visit to Rousham in Oxfordshire. The House and its beautiful gardens were designed by William Kent (1685–1748). Rousham has been the home of the Dormer family since the mid-1630s.

Kent’s design for the garden, begun c.1738, and those at Stowe, are thought to herald the beginning of the landscape garden movement in Britain. Kent was greatly influenced by Palladio. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown worked under Kent at Stowe and was later a famous landscape gardener in his own right – perhaps the most famous of all. 

Exploring Rousham is rather like stepping into a landscape painting. Not far from the house, longhorn cattle graze peacefully in a large field, safely curtailed by a ha-ha (shades of Mansfield Park). As you stroll further into the park, you encounter classical statues amidst its shady groves.  
Eighteenth century visitors were particularly pleased by the Temple of Echo and the Praeneste terrace. The river Cherwell wends its way around the bottom of the garden in a stately fashion, adding to the atmosphere of tranquillity.
Memorial to Ringwood above the cascade.
Praeneste terrace.

Like Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley, I ‘saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view’. I particularly liked the memorial and poem dedicated to Ringwood, ‘an otter-hound of extraordinary sagacity’.
There’s also a wonderful walled garden with trained apple trees, a pigeon house, and spectacular herbaceous borders.
Pigeon House. It still has a ladder inside.
Dormer monument in the church.
We found time to explore the thirteenth century church, which has many monuments to the Dormer family

All photos © Sue Wilkes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Jane Austen's Reading

Jane Austen refers to several female authors in her novels and letters. One author she particularly admired was Maria Edgeworth, one of the most famous writers of her day. In a letter to her niece Anna Austen (later Lefroy) in September 1814, Jane wrote, ‘I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours, and my own’ (Anna was writing a novel).
Maria was the daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, an Irish politician and writer who also found the time to sire 22 children (he was married four times). She was born in Oxfordshire, but later moved to where her father’s estate at Edgeworthstown. Maria helped her father with his tenants, and also collaborated with him on an educational work for children.
Her first novel, Castle Rackrent (published anonymously in 1800), was a polemic on grasping Irish landlords. Another of Edgeworth’s novels, Belinda, was mentioned by Austen along with Fanny Burney’s works in her famous defence of the novel in Northanger Abbey.
Edgeworth’s urge to educate her readers, however praiseworthy, did not please the gentleman (possibly John W. Ward) who reviewed her 1814 novel Patronage for the Quarterly Review (January 1814). He praised her ‘remarkable talent for humour’, but ‘in the first and one of the most material branches of novel-writing, that of framing a story, she is remarkably deficient...there is too much downright lecturing’.
Maria Edgeworth never married, and lived to a ripe old age.

Another popular author of Austen’s day was Mary Brunton (1778–1818); her novels Self-Control (1811) and Discipline (1814) were widely read. Mary (nee Balfour), who was born in Orkney, eloped with a clergyman at the age of twenty; they were happily married. Mary died at the untimely age of forty, leaving an unfinished novel, Emmeline.
When Self-Control was published, Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra that she was anxious to get hold of a copy, but had failed. Evidently she eventually managed to find one, because in October 1813 Jane wrote to Cassandra, ‘I am looking over Self -Control again, and my opinion is confirmed of its being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written work, without anything of nature or probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura's passage down the American river is not the most natural, possible, everyday thing she ever does’.
Title page of Castle Rackrent, courtesy Google Books.
Review of Edgeworth’s novel Patronage in the Quarterly Review, January 1814. Author’s collection.
An Orkney sunset. © Sue Wilkes.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney (1752-1840) is one of the literary ladies I'd most like to visit, if I could go back in time (apart from Jane Austen, of course). In particular, I'd like to do the 18th-century equivalent of an 'intervention' and free her from her father's overbearing critical influence.
Fanny (Frances) began writing in an age when it was considered unseemly for a lady to dabble in novel or play-writing, and when a teenager she burnt all her early writings, which is a great pity for posterity. Nevertheless, greatly daring, she published her first novel anonymously in 1778. Evelina was an overnight success, and four years later, Cecilia appeared. This novel about the trials and tribulations of an heiress probably inspired the final title of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In one scene a character says,'The whole of this unfortunate business...has been the result of pride and prejudice'.
However, Fanny's novel-writing career came to an abrupt halt when, following family pressure, she agreed to take a post in Queen Charlotte's household. She kept a diary, which is wonderfully evocative of the age. But the endless, boring routine of the royal court actually made Fanny ill, and eventually she resigned her position.
Fanny met the love of her life, General D'Arblay, shortly afterwards, and they married in 1793; they had a little boy the following year. Now restored to happiness, Fanny began work on a new novel, Camilla (1796); Jane Austen was one of the subscribers.
A real survivor, Fanny lived through the Napoleonic Wars (she was in Brussels during Waterloo), and famously endured a mastectomy without anaesthetic. After living to the grand old age of 87, she was buried at St Swithin's Church, Walcot, in Bath.
Jane Austen was a great admirer of Burney's works, and in a famous passage in Northanger Abbey, she defends the novel from its detractors: '"And what are you reading, Miss — ?' 'Oh! It is only a novel!' replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language'.

Engraving:Fanny Burney. Collotype after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection. 
Photo: plaque commemorating Fanny Burney as St Swithin's Church, Walcot. © Sue Wilkes.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Love and Friendship Movie

Is a treat in store for Jane Austen fans? A movie of her novella, Lady Susan, is out now. Lady Susan is one of my favourite Austen works, not least because its eponymous anti-heroine is so unlike any other of Jane's characters in her more mature works. (It's believed that Jane probably wrote Lady Susan in her late teens). I haven't seen the movie yet, but the official website has a trailer, and the frocks and locations look lovely.
I have not been able to update my blogs for ages as I've been busy writing a new book, but I hope to resume normal service very soon and continue my literary theme on Jane Austen's predecessors as promised earlier this year.
Illustration: A satirical print of 1796 showing the latest fashions. Courtesy Library of Congress.