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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