Jane Austen Sewing

June 27, 2009 at 9:51 am (books) (, , , , , )

sewing boxAs a craftsperson, one notices the amount of ‘work’ ladies like Emma and Mary comment upon doing for themselves, gifting to others, or getting as gifts. The range of crafts practiced is broad. I remember well coming across a pattern for the embroidery on a night cap made for Charles Smith, and lovingly traced out in a blank portion of a letter that has survived from the period following his last illness.

From descriptions, Mary went into a decline after Charles’ death, losing weight, ignoring the house and the estate. So how wonderful to see a letter to her youngest sister-in-law, Maria Smith, in which she writes:

“According to your wish I send you the pattern of the cap my sister worked for Charles, though I found I had not got it in my pattern book, but I have taken it from the cap which is still in existence, and I must return you and Eliza many thanks for your letters which contained so much that is interesting to me to hear.” [written from Suttons on 10 August 1832]

Therefore, to find a book like Jane Austen’s Sewing Box is indeed a find!

Author Jennifer Forest has supplied a table of contents, showing the array of Regency projects: from a lettercase, to linen-work, to a workbag and huswife, to a bonnet and a reticule. Must admit that the ‘pin cushion and threadcase’ just reminded me of poor Mrs Smith, the friend of Anne Elliot in Persuasion, who eked out a living making (for resale) just such items (see my review of The Letters of Mrs Lefroy).

I asked Ms. Forest what precipitated her book: “I love history and have worked in a couple of different professions relating to history – I taught at secondary school … then worked in a couple museums here – one an 1860s homestead”. She said, “I was re-reading Jane Austen’s novels and noticed that she mentions her women characters doing different sorts of craft like netting, knotting, etc…. [I]t was things like netting and knotting that got me really interested because they are kind of lost arts”.

Just have a love a book that notes on its inside cover that “the needlework of the spoilt Bertram sisters is ‘too ill done for the drawing room’.” Only Austen would have an ear for the meaning behind such a statement. Yet it is so easy to read over the comment and not digest its true meaning today.

I’ll be watching my post for a copy of this book with eager anticipation!

August update: for more information, see our Vermont Chapter’s posts: Deb Barnum’s review and her interview with author Jennifer Forest.

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Experiencing Technical Difficulties…

June 27, 2009 at 9:19 am (Uncategorized)

In trying to upload a book jacket, and having a blank box appear instead it dawned on me that WordPress is experiencing one of those *rare* glitches – when all the image files become BLANK!

So I will save my post for later, but will comment here that I trust the illustrations (few that I use) will resume shortly…

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A Quick Post…

June 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm (books) (, , )

fletcher…to tout a new book: Talking with Past Hours: The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of Bridgnorth. New from the publisher (Moonrise Press in the UK) that brought back the delightful Penelope Byrde book, Jane Austen Fashion, Fletcher’s diary promises a look at a young Victorian during the years 1857-60. Of especial interest to me, the comments he may have put down on the Severn Valley Railway; and (a nod to Goslings & Sharpe) anything written about his life in the Bridgnorth branch bank. This is a review copy (thank you, Jane Moon); so you will be hearing more about the book — just so many interesting titles and ‘people’ and so LITTLE time to sit back, with a cup of tea, and enjoy the wisdom kept in between their covers.

One curious thing: Why use a photo on the cover that is NOT William Fletcher??

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Serving the Servants

June 16, 2009 at 8:08 am (books) (, , , , )

woolfIn Montreal Sunday for a local meeting of JASNA, I just had to hit two stores. One was Bramble House, in Pointe Claire (west of downtown), which sells British food and teas and tea pots & cosies. The other, Nicholas Hoare, the Westmount bookstore at which I always find something to take away (to the detriment of my wallet!).

Sunday, the take away was Mrs Woolf and the Servants. This look at servants, in the household of the Stephens and Woolf families, traces the backgrounds and working lives of these little-recognized people.

One of my tasks is to do HALF as much for the staff members in the households at Suttons, Roehampton, etc etc. Given that many servants are entered into the diaries as one name only (first or last), this may be asking the impossible; yet a few people stand out as not only having a long history with the family, but also are mentioned in a manner that fleshes them out a bit.

And now I add to this post a bit, though names and examples come from the ‘can you help’ page. I’ve done more work extracting and “cataloguing” names from Mary (Gosling) Smith’s diaries, than from Emma (Smith) Austen-Leigh’s. That is a task yet to come…

From Mary’s diaries, therefore, we pull names of women like Mrs Sandoz (seemingly Mary’s governess) and her daughter; Mr Sendall (tutor to little Charles, Mary’s son) and Mr Wyatt (another tutor). I pull out these people because tutors and governesses were not treated in quite the same ‘servant’ category as others working in the household, never mind the estate workers.

Mary Adams; Barlow (I presume a lady’s maid – but what if Barlow was a man?!); Sarah Batch; Martha Finch; Ketcham (a maid); Betsey Thomas also get their mentions; I will cull the diaries and see in at context they are mentioned – and report back! (Often, however, there IS no context.0

Men include Bowen; Conybeare (a real wonder about the spelling of this), who was hired as a new Butler in 1832 at Suttons; Davis; Foster; Godfrey; Hinds.

You can find more by looking in the files called ‘dramatis personae’, including the year-dates in which they appear in Mary’s diaries. For instance, Mary Adams found on the A-F listing, appears in the diaries in the year 1829 only, and I conclude her to be a ‘waged servant’. Why??

Searching the file (which contains transcriptions of all Lady Smith’s diaries), we find the following about Mary Adams:

She possibly replaced Betsey Furlong. On 9 June 1829, Mary (Lady Smith) writes “My sister came from London  Betsey Furlong went away” [Yes, that is the ENTIRE entry for this day; you see, therefore, how cryptic are the originals I work with!] My surmising that Mary replaced her comes from the entry of 11 June: “Mary Adams came” and in the column, against the “pounds” (nothing in the shilling or pence columns), Mary has written “6”. Undoubtedly the girl’s wages!

But in March 1830 we see this notation: “Betsey went home to her mother” – could this be Betsey Furlong or someone else? Then, in July 1832, Mary notes, “Went with Furlong cutting many of laurels in the shubbery [sic].” No mention again of Furlong or Betsey or Mary Adams.

Am finding Mrs Woolf and the Servants of interest, but I’m not far into it yet (a couple chapters). Indeed, it sounds as if the author had more to work with: Virginia Woolf sounds to have written at length, at times, about her ‘servant problems’. Stay tuned.

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Voice from the past

June 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm (a day in the life) (, , )

Today marks the 65th anniversary of D-Day. On the CBS Evenings News, a story covered a man’s quest to have his uncle declared one of its war dead. The uncle’s last moments happened to be uncovered in on-camera interviews with two survivors. The instigator of these video ‘diaries’ of men’s war memories carries such a powerful, purposeful reason for pursuing this project! But just seeing him interviewing veterans sent one thought to my brain: How I wish someone had taken the time to sit and record — audio or video — my Uncle Bob!

Uncle Bob was not present at the beaches in France; his war was served in Italy and Africa. How he loved to ‘talk war’ with his brothers-in-law! Looking back, I now wonder: I heard…, but did I ever LISTEN. Then came the thought: Maybe I did.

I may not pay particular attention to stories of battles, but in seeking stories of the homefront lives of women, or women who survived (or didn’t…) the death camps, there is something about the Voices of the Past that do haunt me. That do teach me and all of us. And being receptive to those voices is surely one reason to be on the earth now, to speak up for those who no longer have a voice. All we each want is for someone someday to say, This person lived, and here is something of his or her life.

Read the script, or watch the video of the CBS story of Amin Isbir, who died on Omaha Beach (“Setting the Record Straight“). Visit Tom Beaty‘s ‘Witness to War‘ website. Preserve. Honor. Educate. No better reasons for being can exist.

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