Never too late

January 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm (news) (, , , , , , , )

Oh, I had had such plans, last month, for posting items to this blog; not much happened, did it? A couple of items are silly to talk about now, a month-plus later – but a couple things I will alert readers to now:

  • On 16 December 2009, Persuasions On-line published my last “Emma” article: Pemberley’s Welcome. The fun of the article comes from Emma Smith’s exuberant account of the homecoming of her cousin, Spencer (Lord Compton), in the summer of  1815. His bride was Margaret Maclean Clephane, ward (with her sisters) of the writer Walter Scott – a favorite author of James-Edward Austen.
  • I am thinking of teaching a course over a weekend in the summer focussing on Pride and Prejudice. No details of cost, dates, syllabus, etc. are yet available, but if this is something you’d be interested in obtaining information about, contact me through the email address on “the author” page.
  • Stowe Magazine ran a lovely article (great photographs!) on the Jane Austen Weekends held in Hyde Park. To get a taste for what goes on, there’s a PDF link on “the author” page.

If there was anything else I waited and waited to talk about, I’ve forgotten them and they’ll have to wait. Time to get off the internet and back to work.

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A True Tonic!

January 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm (a day in the life) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I am writing (thanks to wifi in my room!) from The Governor’s House in Hyde Park — a simply terrific bed and breakfast in Hyde Park, Vermont — where our last (of four) Pride and Prejudice “Jane Austen Weekend” is taking place (for more on the inn and the JA weekends, see this website). Two cancellations, one poor Florida woman still missing in action (did she decide not to come? is she stuck in some airport?), and there are left seven participants, nine with Suzanne (the owner) and myself. A wonderful little group!

Just coming through the door last evening – after a harrowing 360-degree spin around one icy curve (narrowly missed  hitting a guardrail and oncoming vehicles; my car and myself are fine!) – I felt an embrace of ‘welcome’ , and met two of our participants, from Montreal.

Must just say what a pleasure it is being with people who talk about the pleasures of life: travel, books, tv and movie films. One participant is even interested in WWI and WWII era books and movies (like myself). It’s taken me all night to recall Nella Last’s diary (and the subsequent TV movie; both are terrific), as well as think of Georgina Lee’s diaries (published as Home Fires Burning). By the way, her son married into the Spencer-Smith branch of the Smith of Suttons family (Orlando Spencer-Smith’s daughter). Small world.

It was a gab-fest last evening: we met in the parlor before 8; chat segued into my talk on Georgiana Darcy and roamed around many topics before people headed off to bed about 11. It was great fun!

An no one will know how happy it made me feel (unless they read this post!) to hear that participants liked the interactive “look” at these three women artists (Mary Yelloly, Diana Sperling [her work seen below], Lili Cartwright) from Georgiana’s time period (1800-1840s). Looking notes over last evening before the talk I experienced a distinct liking for my ideas on Georgiania, on the works of this trio of amateur artists. Sometimes problems, cares and worries just take over the creative juices… So I’m hoping this weekend away will help them regenerate!

One thing it brought was a new source book. I am staying in the “French Room” – a lovely, huge room with two sleigh beds (quite apropos for this wintry weather…), and it is a stone’s throw from the little video library Suzanne has amassed – and on a table in that alcove, The Making of “Pride and Prejudice” (ie, the A&E “Colin Firth” version). Their researcher remarks that she figured the Bennets would have had a staff of 11 – from Housekeeper to undergroom. The source book she found invaluable in answering the question of staff was published in 1825, and sure enough books.google has it: The Complete Servant, by Samuel and Sarah Adams. (To get past the ‘ads’ advance to page 13 = the title page.) Should make for interesting reading — as the staffing of the likes of Suttons, in Mrs Smith’s day or in Lady Smith’s day (eighteen-teens vs eighteen-thirties), is very sketchy, with a few names in Mary’s diaries but only vague references in Mrs Smith’s letters to such as the collective “the maids”, which somehow manages to sound ever so numerous… maybe it was.

Last night, when discussing Georgiana Darcy and her £30,000, I had wanted to see what that in ‘today’s money’ might equate. Why? because of a great currency converter on the UK website for the Public Record Office/National Archives. For instance, when Mrs Smith’s father died, the family sold his Wiltshire estate for £219,000. Even in today’s money that sum sounds a vast amount to the likes of me! But with these two converters we can find (1) its equivalent in today’s money and (2) today’s money ‘buying power’ in (for instance) 1820:

calculation 1: “In 1820, £219,000 would have the same spending worth of today’s £9,180,480.” W-o-w! Nearly 10 million pounds, divided between the four daughters of Joshua Smith.

So what would Georgiana’s £30,000 equal today? Over one million pounds! (BTW, Mary — and I presume her sister Elizabeth as well, had £20,000 settled on her in 1826 when she married Charles Smith, according to a letter written by Eliza Chute [I’ve not yet looked into marriage settlements of the family].)

I hear the doors — Austen weekenders returning from their sleigh ride down in Stowe! It’s cold, but the sun is shining, which is RARE here in Vermont lately!

The making of P&P book also mentioned diaries held at “Cecil Sharpe House” – I’ve no idea what this is. Searching for it by name, I find bars and nightclubs – which doesn’t sound like a place that houses 19th-century diaries! The fuller quote (on p. 32 of the book) is: “I visited the library at Cecil Sharpe House. I had been asked to find out about a number of points, such as whether guests carried dance cards and whether they were given a full meal, sitting down. The library had a collection of women’s pocket books [ie, diaries] from the early 19th century.” If researcher Clare Elliott’s phrase “had a collection” is indeed in the past tense, any information on what happened to this collection would be of use to me. Though I do find that the English Folk Dance and Song Society website discusses the ‘complete overhaul’ of the archive spaces at Cecil Sharp House (no ‘e’ to his last name). When hearing about a stash of diaries it’s difficult not to wonder: Any from the Smith or Gosling family??

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Resolutions

January 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm (estates) (, , , , , , , , , )

How difficult it is to ‘blog’ when one’s personal life generates an excessively ‘blue’  mood… never mind the TON of snow I’ve shifted today (winter blues don’t help either). But I do have one find I’d like to share — before it is too late and the images disappear:

On 20 January 2010, Christie’s auction house will put under the gavel contents from Newton Hall, the ancestral home of the Widdringtons. The short history of the Widdringtons, as concerns us here, is as follows:

William Gosling, Mary’s father, had two sisters. Maria married Henry Gregg, and was known to Mary as Aunt Gregg; the other died before Mary’s (extant) diaries commence, though her death is noted in Charles’ diary for 1826: Harriet Davison, wife of Alexander Davison of Swarland Hall (Northumbria). Mr Davison figures in the history of Admiral Nelson and his own auction took place in 2000 — the items became the subject of Martyn Downer’s excellent book Nelson’s Purse.

The Davisons had among their children Dorothy; she married Capt. Cook – who later took the name Widdrington. The miniature that comes up for sale on the 20th resided at Newton Hall all these decades because it once belonged to Dorothy! Mary’s diaries mention Dorothy and her husband, as well as other Davison siblings.

The description for Lot 118/Sale 5984 “Harriet Davison (1770-1826) of Swarland Hall” is “English School, c1790. Harriet Davison née Gosling, in white muslin wrap-front dress, white pearl-bordered bandeau in her powdered curling hair.  On ivory. Oval 3 5/16 inch (85 mm) high, gilt-metal frame, the reverse centered with lock of hair and gold wire on opalescent glass panel, within translucent blue glass surround, within velvet-lined hinged burgundy leather travelling case.”

The estimate: £1,500-2000.

She’s a little beauty!

There are a couple other miniatures of family – but I must be quick and will leave the searching up to viewers. One that I simply must mention, however, is a painting on ivory done by young Dorothy (b1794). The curious thing is that this is a copy of a quite “famous” etching of Mary’s Aunt, Mrs Drummond Smith, as a child (Lot 124) [estimate £300-500]. Compare it to the etching, held at the National Portrait Gallery (Mary Cunliffe).

This page shows some other items relating to Dorothy Widdrington: her sketchbook (Lot 121; estimate: £1,500-2500], a loose drawing (lot 123; estimate: £600-900), a miniature of her in old age (Lot 122; estimate £200-400). Capt. Samuel Edward Widdrington, Royal Navy (formerly, Cook) can be seen (and look at the sprigs of hair peeping through from the backside!) in his own miniature (Lot 126; estimate: £800-1200).

How envious I am that the family have such items – and, as someone with so little to show from my own family, I wonder: How can they part with them?? Wish I had a couple thousand pounds; I would go on a shopping spree!

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