The Missing, The Mysteries, The Marvels

December 31, 2011 at 10:45 am (history, jane austen, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On this last day of 2011, I reflect upon how something “turning up” can cause a flurry of thoughts — and how some earlier “flurries” have affected this Smith & Gosling research.

At left is a “seal” of a letter written nearly two hundred years ago by Augusta Smith, on the cusp of her marriage to Henry Wilder. A vibrant girl, her life-story has been lost to the greater world, but she is a large part of what drew me to this family. And why I want their histories told.

The letter was written to her youngest sister Maria, and just happened to be found among a cache of letters by Jacky in Maidstone. This particular letter — quite sweet as it spoke, Eldest Sister to Youngest Sister, of their relationship at the moment it is about to change — was not the bombshell another letter, also written to Maria Smith, Jacky had for me! That letter was from Mrs Odell, whose son had accompanied Drummond Smith, the youngest Smith brother, on his fateful trip to Italy. Seems Young Odell was interested in Maria! Alas, did Maria reject him because she didn’t care for him, or… did she somewhat hold him responsible for her dear brother’s death???

You can find an earlier Drummond Smith blog post here: Drummond Erased?

So there is one mystery yet to be solved. Only more letters, or diaries, will shed light on that one.

Another mystery, surprisingly uncovered, came with the letter Angela from Alberta has transcribed: Lady Elizabeth Compton‘s love for a near constant companion: Charles Scrace Dickins! What Angela didn’t know, as she wove an Austenian story around the clues laid out in her letter, was that nearly five years later the pair marry! But: What brought them to the altar?? Again: some more puzzle pieces are required to flesh out the story.

Paula Byrne has now come across a small picture:

And speculates that it was perhaps drawn by Eliza Chute, of The Vyne, and portrays Jane Austen! Not sure which excites me more: the idea of Jane Austen portrayed, or that a drawing potentially done by dear Eliza has been discovered…

A possible Wiggett-Chute connection to this picture has brought me back to Miss Le Faye‘s excellent Biographical Index in her Jane Austen Letters. So many familiar names, in conjunction with the Chutes, the Smiths, even the earlier generation of Goslings. Was just this morning reading about Alethea Bigg of Manydown.

The more I think about the VAST correspondence circle Jane Austen — and Cassandra too, we mustn’t forget her — would have been a part of, the more I have to wonder what cache of letters might still exist, somewhere, all dusty and locked away. As with the letter Angela from Alberta saw, even ONE letter can make a difference. As can one drawing.

Eliza in England sent me a watercolor image of Mimi Smith — daughter of Mary and Charles; wife of Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper — if I remember correctly, Eliza saved the little book of drawings containing it from certain destruction! Now to find the photograph the drawing was based upon…

Mark Woodford’s father obtained the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith (Mamma), possibly at Auction. Who owned the diary that it got separated from everything else?? Who else — living in Chicago, like Mark; or anywhere around the world — might have purchased a letter or a diary and have no idea WHOSE property they own, for few ever put their names to their diaries, and some sign their letters with their last name, but how common a name is Smith.

I could say, who would NOT know the name Jane Austen — but I can offer this anecdote: A few years ago I was interviewed for a job at a local pharmaceutical college. Had, I think, five people in succession interviewing me. One man (yes, note the sex of the person) looked at me, quiet serious, and as he asked for more comments about my volunteer work with JASNA [Jane Austen Society of North America], asked: Who’s Jane Austen??

I didn’t get that job and now I see the same position is advertised again. I won’t be applying. Their loss! for they missed the boat in hiring a really terrific person.

My New Year’s Resolution is to work harder at this project, and get Smith&Gosling the attention it deserves. The first task is to do a little updating to some of the pages on the blog — so stay tuned! And I’ve not forgotten that I owe readers my Boswell connection story.

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Caroline Wiggett Remembers Austen/Vyne Neighbors

December 30, 2011 at 10:23 am (a day in the life, chutes of the vyne, diaries, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

From the mouth of babes — or at least those (in 1869) who were once babes, and reminiscing about their lives c1803!

Caroline Wiggett was “adopted” by Eliza and William Chute. Cousin to William Chute of The Vyne, and the youngest of seven motherless children, Caroline went to live at The Vyne when she was 3-and-half years old. Caroline always called them Aunt and Uncle Chute.

This silhouette of Caroline as a young woman (left) graced the cover of the Jane Austen Journal (published by the British Library a couple years ago; still available on Amazon).

When in England four-and-a-half years ago, one manuscript I transcribed was Caroline Wiggett Workman’s Reminiscences, which she wrote for her nephew Chaloner Chute, among others. Re-reading it tonight, in light of Ellie Bennett’s thoughts, the list of neighbors she recalled as being important to the Chutes pops, like reading an Austen biography.

Caroline is remembering what life was like when she was first adopted, and the neighbors whom came and went and provided friends for the Chutes, as well as playmates for the lonely little girl.

We start with the Brocas family of Beaurepaire, which remained largely untenanted, but was sometimes inhabited by “old Mrs Brocas, step grand mother to the late Mr. Brocas.”

In the village of St John (called West Sherborne), there lived the rector “old Dr. Hall,” his wife and sister. “These we visited now & then”.

Mrs C. Blackstone and her daughter Margaret – a particular friend to Caroline, as they were of a same age — lived at Worting; “at the Upper house an old Mrs. Blackstone & her nephew (who was then the rector) & her daughter Harriett lived, relations to Mrs. C. Blackstone.” At the Great House was Mr. and Mrs Clarke – a sister to Lady Mildmay; they had several children. “We were often in that house as my Aunt was very partial to the family.”

Her next estate is Manydown, where lived “Mr. Wither & three daughters” – Mrs. Heathcote (a widow, whose son William was friend to young James Edward Austen), Miss Alethea Bigg & Miss Kitty. “These frequently rode to the Vyne, as my Uncle was very partial to old Mr Wither, so we were on most intimate terms with the family. I was very fond of visiting them”.

She next mentions the James Austens (Mary Lloyd, his second wife; Anna, Edward, and Caroline his three children); distance — to Steventon — seems a bit of an impediment, but James was of course the Rector of Sherborne and therefore their clergyman.

Colonel & Mrs Cunnyinghame with 7 children lived at Malshanger, she was a great friend of my Aunt’s”. Mrs Sclater and two maiden sisters lived at Tangier. Mrs & Mrs Bramton (Mrs B the sister of William Chute) lived at Oakley Hall. Lady Hicks was another married Chute sister. “Miss Elizabeth Chute took a small house at Oakley to be near her sister Mrs. Bramston”.

“The Crooks lived at Kempshot. On the Aldermaston side, we visited the Mounts, father of the Late W. Mount; there were 4 or 5 daughters…., the eldest afterwards married Mr. Michael Beach. We were very intimate in that house, also at Sulhamstead” — home of the Thoyts.

“There were many other neighours whom I have not mentioned, who used to dine at the Vyne, but those mentioned were those whom we saw most of, & with whom we were most intimate.”

* * *

Rupert Willoughby (an Austenian-sounding name!) has written several books that will be of interest to those looking for information on locale, or neighbors, or the Chutes. Willoughby’s website has a detailed listing of his books:

      • Basingstoke and Its Contribution to World Culture
      • Reading and its Contributions to World Culture
      • Chawton: Jane Austen’s Village
      • Shelborne: Gilbert White’s Village, with a guide to his house; with illustrations by Julie Anne Hudson
      • Sherborne St John & The Vyne in the Time of Jane Austen
      • A Key to Odiham Castle
      • Life in Medieval England
      • The Incredible Journey of Victor Hugo’s Dog (forthcoming)

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Ellie Bennett on Jane Austen: Unseen Portrait

December 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm (chutes of the vyne, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

Writer Ellie Bennett, on her blog Bikes, Boots and Boats, has THREE lengthy write-ups about the BBC2 Special, Paula Byrne’s portrait, and — yes, even a few thoughts for my dear Eliza Chute!

(By the way, Ms Bennett spells her name the same way Lady Cunliffe {Mary’s maternal grandmother} spelled her maiden name — which accounts for Mary’s brother Bennett Gosling)

        • PART 1 - background; includes info on Mr Foster, MP
        • PART II - a Wiggett-Chute connection to the Fosters?
        • PART III – thoughts on Eliza Chute & the portrait

I want to pay some particular attention to the thoughts on the Wiggett-Chutes: I don’t know why, but I had wondered — as Eliza Chute’s “items” (diaries, letters, etc) seem to have gone to various family members — if maybe this portrait hadn’t traveled to Caroline Wiggett Workman somehow… I mean, if Edward Austen Leigh had known about the portrait, surely he’d have used it as a basis for the engraving, rather than having the Maidenhead artist Andrews provide an ‘interim’ between Cassandra’s drawing and the engraving used in the Memoir.

Read along with me, to find what Ellie has uncovered…

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Amanda Grange: Jane Austen’s Unseen Portrait

December 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm (jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

Writer Amanda Grange has an excellent summation of her thoughts, doubts, and questions, after viewing Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? Check our her blog, http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/2011/12/jane-austen-unseen-portrait.html

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Byrne’s Austen Portrait, Part II

December 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm (chutes of the vyne, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A kind friend sent a screen shot of the backside of the Byrne Portrait:

The “M” is curious: almost looks like a “tail” was added to the beginning stroke. Miss is not written as I might have expected: with the double-s written as an Esszet (as I call it after having had German lessons). Here is Mary Gosling / Lady Smith’s diary from 1829, citing the name Miss de Grey (her step-mother’s sister), with the double-s I expected:

Is is possible that the Miss was added? The one thing against that notion is that Eliza Chute (for instance) would have referred to her formally: Miss Austin would have been Cassandra; Miss Jane (or J.) Austin would have indicated the younger unmarried daughter. Eliza’s capital “M” typically began at the top of the left side, with a slight curl before the decent of the downstroke.

Eliza Chute’s capital “J” typically were shorter on the top, longer on the bottom (the opposite of the letter seen above). Her word-ending “e” typically was closed, as in Mary’s “de” above.

AUSTEN, on the other hand, could be akin to the way Eliza noted the name in her 1799 diary, reproduced in Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life.

My first thought was a shaky hand (possibly because of infirmity?).

Inconclusive conclusion, for I’ve no one about whom I would say, “This is so-and-so’s hand.”

* * *

Charlotte Frost, author of Sir William Knighton: Regency Physician, has sent me an informative series of “thoughts & reactions” on viewing the program (thanks, Charlotte!), so there will be more to come.

Because the Chutes of The Vyne (or Vine) are so well-known, I’ve made little mention of them in this blog. Obviously, there are diaries missing in the Hampshire Record Office series, including the one which Paula Byrne thinks the “crucial” year: 1814.

Dear Blog Reader: If you’ve a diary, quite probably kept in a pocket book (typically red in color, but I remember one green-covered book) entitled THE DAILY JOURNAL, OR, Gentleman’s, Merchants’s and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Accompt Book — these were a series of pre-printed diaries, with left-side available for memoranda and the right-side kept for accounts (debits and credits), but sometimes not used for that purpose — and you recognize some of these names, please-please-please contact me! (see Author, at right, for contact info.)

I make no claim to “world authority,” as Paula Byrne’s tweet claims, but I certainly have a deep interest in Eliza and all the family. So allow me to lay out a few words about Miss Eliza Smith of Erle Stoke Park and Mrs William Chute of The Vyne:

Gwyneth Dunstan, a former steward connected to The Vyne, was someone I contacted after finding notice of her talk, on 16 July 2009, at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. Her talk was entitled, “Eliza Chute: A Gentlewoman in local society in Jane Austen’s Day”. It is from her talk’s poster that this silhouette of Eliza Chute was posted on this site, on the Portraits page:

The same appears in A Day in the Country; as companion silhouette for William Chute exists, the set must have been made prior to 1824 (when William died).

past posts:

I bring up Lady Cunliffe – mother to Eliza Cunliffe, who, only a few days after Eliza Smith married William Chute, married William Gosling (she eventually gave birth to my diarist, Mary Gosling) — because so much of Eliza Chute’s early “history” is tied up with her BFF Eliza Gosling. Lady Cunliffe and her daughters were known to James Boswell, who was a friend to the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Thrale, and Samuel Johnson. Boswell wrote to Reynolds about Lady C and her daughters…

I hate to leave readers dangling, but it’s been a long day, I’m tired…. So more tomorrow!

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Byrne’s Jane Austen Portrait: By Eliza Chute?

December 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm (chutes of the vyne, diaries, history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Jane Austen‘s presumed portrait (at left), c1815, may have caused some hearts to skip a beat; mine skipped several beats for a far different reason: The unmistakable relationship to another portrait, a family portrait, indicating that the artist might be Eliza Chute was staring me in the face!

At the beginning of November, I received the first email from author Paula Byrne, asking about Eliza. Her probing caused only one conclusion: that she had come across a portrait. Answering her queries in the abstract was difficult: I had only a passing acquaintance with work by Eliza Chute — mainly those drawings on display at The Vyne. Not being resident in England, it has been four-plus years since I’ve seen them. And even then: Which belonged to Eliza? Which to her sisters Emma or Augusta?

Dr. Byrne’s first questions concerned Eliza Chute’s whereabouts in 1814. There is no Eliza Chute diary for that year [if you have it, do let me know!], which makes the question harder to answer; that is also the year before Emma’s diaries begin; and the year in which Augusta Smith lost her husband. Dr. Byrne was also curious about the Smiths’ George Street, London residence. She had begun her email stating that she was commissioned to write a new Austen biography; she ended that first message by saying, “I have discovered she {Eliza Chute} was a painter of some repute. Do you know anything about this?”

Thanks to Mike E., I have an engraved portrait of Joshua Smith based on a portrait by Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma” to my Emma Austen Leigh). Mike photographed The Vyne’s copy; another copy exists at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. Emma had great talent for taking a likeness! What about Eliza??

Ah, so much time could have been saved if Paula Byrne had forwarded a picture of the portrait’s front and identification! But we researchers like to hold our cards close to our chest…

So to answer Paula Byrne’s Question: Where was Eliza Chute in 1814, and what about George Street?

Thanks to Mark Woodford, and the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith, Great George Street was a very well-known address: there is even discussion of the rooms and layout of the place at Victoria History. Alas, Joshua, who grew less in health as 1819 approached, seems to have given up his George Street residence in 1812.

Obviously, Great George Street’s proximity to Westminster (Joshua Smith was a Member of Parliament), was of interest; seeing the portrait, one can see why. But family letters put Eliza Chute, when she was in London, at her sister Augusta’s Portland Place address in these mid-eighteen-teen-years.

As to Eliza’s artistic abilities –,” I replied, “I’ve read in Emma’s diary that the Duke of Wellington was impressed enough to invite her to Strathfield Saye to copy from his Old Masters (this of course a typical “exercise” for artists — male and female — to hone their skills). I have a very small image (culled from elsewhere on the web…) of her portrait of her sister Maria. This comes from a book — A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates {another Compton / Northampton property, in addition to Castle Ashby}.”

Once you compare the Maria Compton portrait with the Austen portrait, well, you will understand the excitement!

I have seen neither portrait “in the flesh”, but the positioning of the sitters are very like… And both described as being “Graphite on Vellum” (see the Guardian’s article and also this Peerage link to the online photo of Maria Compton’s portrait).

Paula and I wrote back and forth.

I made the comment, “I will not write at length NOW, but I have thoughts on the supposed “dislike” of Eliza by Austen, based on Austen’s few comments in letters. To put it simply: I think Austen was a great JOKER in letters to Cassandra, and a lot more is tongue-in-cheek than we (outsiders) might think.

Were they great friends, Eliza and Jane or Cassandra? Doubtful. But the Smiths certainly befriended their clergy (was just reading Emma’s 1828 diary last night, and their move to Tring Park brought them to the Rev. Charles Lacy), and would have known Cass & Jane. Thomas Chute owned early editions of Austen’s novels, and I think Eliza would have known she wrote them as word began to get out thanks to loose-tongued people like Henry Austen.

Paula’s response to that observation was heartening: “I quite agree with you about Austen’s supposed dislike of Eliza Chute. I think that Jane adopts the persona of the naughty little sister, who says shocking things to the older, wiser sister. She was indeed a great joker and loved to shock and tease. I think that the Chutes were very important to the Austen family and have been neglected. They all visited the Vyne and seemed to have a great time–even Fanny Knight went and enjoyed it there and when Charles and Francis were home they went along too. It’s very interesting that Tom Chute owned early editions of the novels. Anything else you can think of to further the Chute/Austen connection will be very valuable.

In answer to the Chute / Austen connection I wrote, “I would have thought Austen would have enjoyed the company of the family (which is why I keep mind open about uncovering some reference to Jane in particular, but I’d take Cass. too! I just love her…). Edward Austen Knight joined the hunt; Chute franked some letters; they were all of a similar age. But, socially, the Chutes would have been in different circles (and in some ways their family was their great friend; it’s amazing how people you think were “only friends” turn out to have a family connection!) — and yet, Sarah Smith (mother) mentions Mrs Lefroy. The connections just swirl around them all.

Although Eliza Chute diaries exist for 1813 and 1815, I had done work only up to 1807 (the last extant diary prior to 1813); for that year I could give Paula Byrne a brief rundown of Eliza’s typical movements during a calendar year:

1807 Eliza in London; stays at No. 6 PP with Charles & Augusta [leave for Town 2/12]; Wm seems with her for she mentions “us” dining with the Goslings on 2/20; leaves 3/13; 4/26 Parliament dissolved; 5/29 Eliza in Portsmouth for day, Gosport 6/2; 6/24 London, George St.; a note of the House sitting on 7/6 (Whitbread’s motion, State of the Nation); 7/11 leave London; 7/21 Winchester Races; 10/27 Went to London, PP; Augusta Smith delivers Sarah Eliza 11/11 (the future Lady Le Marchant); 12/10 Basingstoke Ball; Stoke for the New Year

And the prior existing diary, for 1804:

1804 Been at Stoke; Miss Meen accompanies her home on 1/14 (Chute left 1/3); family from Stoke at Vyne, but leave for London: news of illness of Mrs Drummond Smith; 2/7 London, stays 6 PP – Caroline with them; 2/17 notes visit by ‘TVC’ – Thomas Vere Chute (Wm’s brother); following the death of Mary (Cunliffe) Smith (2/27) Eliza moves to their house in Picadilly - Caroline left with the Charles Smiths (6 PP) – Wm Chute sleeps at Picadilly but dined at George St.

Towards the end of our flurry of emails, Paula asked, “Do we know that she definitely knew that Jane Austen was the author of the novels?

A difficult question to answer in the absolute affirmative, but one I had already conjectured upon when writing about Fanny Smith (later Fanny Seymour, Mrs Richard Seymour, of Kinwarton).

  • The Walter Scott Connection: his ward Margaret Maclean Clephane married the Smith’s cousin Spencer (Lord Compton) in 1815. Scott visited the Portland Place household on 16 May 1815. He corresponded regularly with Lady Compton and her family. Scott reviewed Austen’s Emma.
  • The Chutes of The Vyne had James Austen as their clergyman. He and his son (Emma’s eventual husband) visited The Vyne often; as did Jane’s other brothers, her parents, Cassandra and, yes, Jane herself.
  • The Reverend Thomas Vere Chute, whom Jane mentions in her letters, was William Chute’s younger brother; he owned copies of Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. (His name inscribed in the volumes; he died in 1827.)
  • According to Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (daughter of Emma Smith and James Edward Austen Leigh), in 1814 her father “was admitted to the knowledge of a well-kept secret, this being that his Aunt Jane had lately published two books, though he had read these books with a keen enjoyment.” She also revealed that Eliza Smith (Lady Le Marchant; born 1807) remembered Edward ‘at the Vine in my schoolroom days… He was a great favourite with Aunt and Uncle Chute.’
  • In addition to Thomas Vere Chute, Jane Austen knew their sister: Mary (Mrs. Wither Bramston) of Oakley Hall. This branch of Bramstons were relations to the Essex branch of the Bramstons of Skreens, an estate which neighbored Suttons — home of Charles and Augusta Smith.

And, if I had known in early November about the spelling of the portrait’s identification, I might have included the following, which appeared in my article “Edward Austen’s Emma Reads Emma” (Persuasions (no. 29; 2007): 235-240): Of the Austen novels Le Faye has ID’ed as belonging to Thomas Vere Chute, Emma and Mansfield Park are not among the titles. Emma had in her possession a copy of that first novel (Emma) during the period of her engagement to Edward Austen: September 1828. Can we assume this was Emma’s first reading of this novel? Never assume—.

Among the diary items removed from Emma’s 1817 diary are two quotes, from Mansfield Park, which was ID’ed in the article as,

The quotation reproduces part of the conversation between Miss Crawford and Edmund Bertram regarding his becoming a clergyman (“At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began” to “the rest of the nation” [MP 91-93]); the attribution is given as “Mansfield Park / Miss Jane Austin“.

The Smiths and Chutes were quite consistent in spelling the name with an ‘i’. In an era of erratic spelling — even within families (think in the Austen family: Bridges and Brydges; in the Smith family: Dickins and Dickens; Devall and Duval). In an 1823 diary, Emma amends the Austin name to AUSTEN — this spelling she then consistently uses to the end of her days! Compelling evidence indeed…

AustenOnly has a fantastic post on the Byrne portrait (complete with Austen family portraits); the above responds to the comment about the “interesting misspelling of Jane Austen’s surname: ‘Miss Jane Austin’.”

I’d also like to mention in response to those who wonder about Paula Byrne’s “fixation” on the nose (see for instance the debate at Jane Austen’s World): the nose is often where I start when tracking down drawings, miniatures or (especially) photos of various family members and in-laws. It is the most prominent facial feature, whether a person is six or sixty.

I’d like to end this exceptionally long post with the recollection of a memory on first seeing the drawings – family portraits (with one exception) – included in the little booklet, Scenes from Life at Suttons, 1825 & 1827. Anyone who has looked through a collection of portraits of one sitter (choose, for example, the multiple portraits of the Duchess of Devonshire [Georgiana Cavendish]), knows that good and bad “likenesses” exist. I have no way of knowing whether Augusta Smith (the future Mrs. Henry Wilder) was a good portraitist — although her family thought her quite adept. Still, leafing through Suttons, tears began to flow as I looked at portrait after portrait: Augusta was there (by another artist); Emma; Charles and Mary – whom I’d never seen any representations of; Mary’s elder sister Elizabeth; even Charles Scrase Dickins! And, as frontispiece, Mamma: Mrs Augusta Smith. It was a heady day!

However imperfect, our a visual society loves pictorial representations. Augusta Smith wrote on her portrait of sister Fanny, that the face was ‘too long’. It currently remains my only representation of Fanny; Freydis Welland has a silhouette of her I’ve not yet seen.

Would Jane Austen have “sat to” Eliza Chute, in London, in 1814/1815? Quite probably not. Did Eliza Chute know what Jane Austen looked like, enough to do a portrait, in some manner related to that of her own sister, Maria Lady Northampton, at least as a remembrance or an homage? Absolutely.

Broadcast Links, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (BBC2, 26 Dec 2011):

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Upper East Side: ‘at home’ with Elective Affinities

December 21, 2011 at 9:48 pm (entertainment, news) (, , , , , , )

The second I saw this in The New York Times, I was intrigued; a FASCINATING idea!

Chopin melodies enchant; tea and finger sandwiches sustain; and Alice Hauptmann (actress Zoe Caldwell) entertains a select 30 guests each evening. The play, Elective Affinities, is taking place not in a theater, but in a real Upper East Side residence:

WHY has this so captured my imagination?? Imagine a Smith&Gosling evening … in a place like Roehampton Grove:

Or The Vyne:

The guests arrive, have tea, eat their finger sandwiches, then the Butler escorts them into, say, the Star Parlour, where Emma and Mary await to talk about life in c1819 England. Great fun!

* * *

an aside: Ah, reading about Zoe Caldwell transports me back to a NY City trip during which I attended a performance of  Master Class, where she played Maria Callas. My first time seeing Audra McDonald (a great voice), too. Life was good once…

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JASNA AGM Revisited

December 17, 2011 at 11:40 am (jane austen, jasna, research) (, , , , , , , , )

Here, on a Sunny (!!) Saturday in northern Vermont, I am transported back to the “summery” October days of Fort Worth, Texas:

I remembered this morning that December 16th also brought the publication of Persuasions On-Line! Of course, much of its contents center on the 2011 AGM, which focused on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s first novel, Sense & Sensibility.

I’ve recently been asked, by the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, to write about my AGM experience; so how timely to also see some scholarship produced from the conference.

  • Juliet McMaster was a RIOT in person, and in P-Online you have her written presentation on duels. I love her book of diaries by Rosalie Hook, called Woman Behind the Painter: The Diaries of Rosalie, Mrs James Charles Hook. Don’t miss this, or Juliet’s AGM paper. Who else could have gotten Border officials to allow her to cross into the US from Canada with a sword!?!
  • Dear Peter Sabor once again writes about letters, a fascinating subject particularly dear to me. His was a very interesting talk, even if not accompanied with sword… or pen!
  • Jeffrey Nigro, who had a PowerPoint presentation, was one talk I attended that had catastrophic computer problems that ate up time — and jettisoned the talk at the point that I found it most interesting. Hurray for paper copies!
  • Kristen Miller Zohn was one paper I just HAD to attend: on Miniatures and Hairwork! I’ve still not followed-up on the contact she suggested for help in locating some Smith & Gosling items… But, can’t wait to read her paper. Pity: no miniatures in the flesh, though some excellent photography!

Of course the P-Online always includes a Miscellany section — so how interesting to see Laurie Kaplan‘s article on Teaching Jane Austen’s “London” Novels in situ. There will be more about London when I talk about a recent book arrival (thanks to Charlotte Frost): Walks Through Regency London, by Louise Allen. And Deb Barnum has provided two years’ worth of Austen Bibliography (2007 and 2010)

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December 16th Birthdays

December 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm (jane austen, people) (, , , , , , , , )

Listening to the radio this morning, there were announcements for the birthday of Noel Coward (in 1899). The interesting comment attached to this was that at one point he had to “reinvent” himself. Ah, aren’t we all having to do, just to keep treading water, sometimes.

The radio station’s next comment on Coward’s birthday also included Beethoven’s birthday (1770). More a Mozart fan, I must admit to forgetting the birth dates of other composers. Discussion of him, and a piece played by composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, just transported me back to Vienna. Oh, gosh! to be able to travel! I’ve not seen Vienna in fifteen years… And my German was almost “decent” back then.

When I reached work, after having been out a couple days, I was greeted with “Happy Jane Austen’s birthday”. I hope Jane did have some happy birthdays. But no one can ever know the ups and downs she may have experienced over her lot in life. Yet her writings show that for those who need to express themselves in words, they will always find a way to do so. Austen was among the lucky: she saw her works printed. Even if she didn’t have a long life, even if she didn’t make a lot of money, she saw her works go out beyond her family.

Imagine Beethoven, who in the end couldn’t hear his own compositions. Coward was probably the luckiest of them all: he saw his works give him riches and fame. Though most artists might be happy just to have to the ability to perform the art they love doing — a livable wage and a responsive, encouraging audience.

A lot can be said about the thoughts behind the word ENCOURAGEMENT. Home, sick, the last few days, I’ve had a LOT of time to think. Wish there had been some one person, in a position to help, who took the time to encourage me. Those of you out there who feel the guiding hand of a mentor are perhaps the luckiest of everyone.

In my own research there is no December 16th birthday, but there is a December 16th wedding: Emma Smith and James Edward Austen. I know that in the early days of their engagement (a few months before their wedding), they were reading Emma together. What might have suggested that book? I have no definitive clues that the Smith girls read much Austen until after 1817 — although they had known James Edward quite some years, running into him at The Vyne, the estate of their Aunt and Uncle Chute. In the 1820s, one letter mentions a left-behind volume of Pride and Prejudice and some slim comments about characters the letter-writer found particularly worthy of comment (the usual suspects being singled out: Mr Collins and Mary Bennet!).

When Edward brought Emma around Winchester — and they visited the Cathedral – they must have stopped at Aunt Jane’s graveside; but, again, they have left no concrete clue.

But: Was December 16th just a convenient date, or was there some significance for bride or groom in marrying on that date?

It’s funny little questions like that which keep the attention slowly burning, for who doesn’t like a puzzle in need of solving?

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Miniatures on the Auction Block

December 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm (fashion, history, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Soon after my last post, in which I discussed the *discovery* of Fanny Seymour having had her portrait miniature painted by Mr Ross (where is it??), I found a group of THREE miniatures of Fanny’s nieces:

This was a sale that just took place at the end of November 2011! A correspondent, who had photographed an album containing photographs of some of the Spencer Smith children, was VERY surprised — yet happy to note the threesome have stayed together. 

(side note: Yes, ultimately Spencer gave his children the name Spencer Smith; I supposed to differentiate his children from those of his brother, Charles Joshua Smith.)

The uppermost portrait is Augusta Frances Spencer Smith (born 1849); bottom row shows, on the left, Isabella Mary Spencer Smith (born 1846), and, right, Dora Spencer Smith (born 1845). Dora married the Rev. John Jenkyns, whose family has ties to Balliol College, Oxford University.

The miniatures are by Reginald Easton (1807-1893), painted in 1863.

Please disregard the lot’s “notes” — no way did Charles Smith (who died in 1814, and was Spencer’s father) marry Frances Seymour born in 1808!

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