Huff’s Vermeer & Austen

September 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

This past Sunday, our JASNA chapter hosted current JASNA President Marsha Huff. She gave her noted talk comparing Johannes Vermeer’s artwork and Jane Austen’s artistry.

Two intriguing thoughts which were brought up during the talk include the observation that Mansfield Park (which Marsha thought had still to find its definitive screen representation) is a dialogue between events as seen by FANNY PRICE and events seen by EDMUND BERTRAM. Hmmmm…, I can’t say I ever noticed that! So must put MP on my list of to-be-read-soon books.

BTW, I did recently watch on YouTube the Rozema Mansfield Park. Wonderful to see Jonny Lee Miller, such a strong actor in both of his essays upon the Austen stage. Interesting to utilize Austen’s juvenilia; but a bit uncomfortable with the overtones assigned to Miss Crawford. And the actress who played Young Fanny — Hannah Taylor-Gordon — just made me think how wonderful she might be cast as my Emma — but more on my dream-casting of a film in some later post.

You can read about Rozema, Mansfield Park, and Fanny Price at

One Vermeer picture that grabbed my attention concerns a LETTER-READING Lady, how appropriate! As Marsha spoke about the work, discussing how Vermeer had made changes to it (discernible thanks to x-ray technology) and compared it to the “cancelled chapters” of Persuasion, one began to see how all artists  work until it pleases themselves. Sometimes we are our hardest critics!

Thank you, Marsha, for coming to Vermont and sharing your thoughts on Austen, Vermeer, art and writing. Marsha even had a few complimentary thoughts on my Mary & Emma research. Always nice to be noticed.

Vermeer spent his life in Delft; the closest I ever travelled to that was Brugge, 123 miles to the south and in Belgium rather than The Netherlands. My mother and I were there in May, and even that early in the year the light was phenomenal! How well I recall wanting to tour the city with its lights on, but I had to wait until 11 p.m. — and even that late in the evening the sky was only dusky.


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Another Year Older…

September 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm (a day in the life) (, , , )

by Frenchie (Photobucket)

Another year has rolled around. It seems not that long ago that I was doing a post to wish Emma a happy birthday. Has it been a YEAR already??? But then, if you’re born in 1801, I guess you might not care all that much that time is marching on for the likes of me!

Still, it is hard to pass up this day as it once meant so much to one of my two diarists, so:


To me, you don’t look a day over 21…

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Diaries and Letters

September 25, 2010 at 8:02 pm (books, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Starting my book in the Year of 1814, I wanted to remind myself what life was like in the age of the horse. I pulled off my shelves the first volume of the Torrington Diaries (1934), and began at the beginning: how the 24 diaries were re-assembled. A fabulous story, and once which spoke immediately to me.

“A year or to ago Mr. Douglas Clayton of Croydon, showed me [editor C. Bruyn Andrews] one of the volumes, which he had bought at a second-hand bookseller’s”. Immediately, my mind flew to thoughts of Mark and his father, who had purchased, perhaps at just such a “second-hand bookseller’s” the 1798 diary of young Augusta Smith (Mamma to Emma; mother-in-law to Mary).

Andrews continued, telling of the diaries just lying around, “apparently unnoticed”, until they were sold “quite recently by auction for a few pounds”. The manuscripts were then resold almost immediately (sounds rather like some recent sales of Jane Austen first editions….). The auction catalogue listed 31 volumes; the bookseller’s only 24, which leads the editor to surmise that the seven remaining were “odd volumes of something quite different”. At the time the introduction was written 22 volumes had been located; by the time subsequent volumes were published the two missing volumes had been located and included (see 1938’s vol. 4 online at Internet Archive).

But what a true “variety of places” the manuscripts of the Torrington Tours were found in! Andrews lists them: “At the Bodleian Library at Oxford; at Mr. Sadler’s mansion at Ashburne in Derbyshire; with Mr. Dunn, general draper of Blackburn; at the Cardiff Public Library; at the delightful secluded Berkshire vicarage of Mr. de Vitré at West Hendred; at the Public Library at the busy town of Luton; at Mr. Suckling’s old bookshop next to the Garrick Club in London.” Such “luck” in the early 1930s; can that be reenacted in the 2010s?

Every time Alan in Warwickshire emails me a scan of a newly-purchased letter, I thank my lucky stars; when someone like Mark or Angela comes with some unexpected — and exciting — piece of the puzzle, the “luck” turns incredible.

Angela’s letter — written by Augusta (the daughter; later Mrs. Henry Watson Wilder) in 1824 — is a perfect case: Augusta reminisces about their 1822-23 tour to the Continent. She tells her cousin (and us!) her longing for the bustle of Rome at Easter. Until Angela’s letter surfaced there was little about the Smiths during their stay in Rome that had come down to me.

And there lies the *magic* of letters: In an  instant they can tell something that was never before dreamed; they can hint at little trials and wishes; they can answer questions; or provide an instantaneous outlook on someone’s life.

Readers of this blog already know some of the far-flung places bits and pieces of this research reside in: Public Libraries in the U.K.; county archives from places as diverse as Essex, Hampshire and Warwickshire; large academic institutions like Duke University and Oxford University. Then there are the individuals – Alan, Mark, Angela, Dr. Catto. And the family members and descendents. What wonders research unearths — an even if I am the only one, in the end, who cares, some days that’s just okay too. These people fascinate me. And untangling their lives comes like a detective story that has come unravelled and just needs some knitting together; but first the strands must be located – the beginnings and the ends.

Oh! there are so many pieces that once existed! Do they still? Emma’s travel journals or letters from the Continental Tour of 1822-23; the “Foreign Journal” of her sister Augusta (which presumably covers the same tour); William Ellis Gosling’s “MS Volume of his reflections and notes”; Elizabeth Gosling’s honeymoon journal; letters and journals of Lady Elizabeth Compton; Charles Smith’s letters from abroad (the subject of its own post); the Diaries of the Rev. Richard Seymour, which currently only exist in microfilm at Warwickshire Record Office; this too has its own post).

For more details on these items — and the page which will be updated when appropriate, please see the page “Where Are These Items?”

It is a momentous decision, to begin writing while still gathering — for one tiny letter, or stout diary discovered can totally change direction. Yet, when Angela’s letter appeared, with that testimony of Augusta’s about Easter, 1823 – it gave the perfectly fitting piece for my little booklet on sister Fanny. And for little things one must be grateful.

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Emma Meets the Austens

September 14, 2010 at 8:58 pm (people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

In summer 1829, Emma Austen met her Austen relations. Two letters from this period exist, one written to ‘Aunt’ (Judith Smith, the only remaining sister of Emma’s father); the other to her own sister, Fanny.

The Edward Austens had visited Ben and Anna Lefroy, Edward’s brother-in-law and half-sister. Emma met ‘Mr Knight’, ‘who changed his name from Austen to Knight for a fortune.’ She describes to Aunt my favorite of them all: ‘Mrs Cassandra Austen’, whom she calls ‘a very pleasing lady like person’.

Emma goes on to describe the visit: ‘We staid at Ashe till Friday — Mr William Knight has the living of Steventon & his father has built him a capital parsonage house with every convenience & luxury about it’. This convenience, of course, is why the Steventon parsonage that was Jane Austen’s birthplace no longer exists. Progress…

But rather than write about Emma’s impressions of the family, I want to touch on the fact that after her discussion of Steventon the rest of the letter is physically missing! More than half of the page is just gone. So much information, then a SNIP and some precious other bit is torn away.

It’s rather like Emma’s diaries. One queer thing about them is that whenever she gave birth to one of her children pages have been removed and a notation made as to which child was born when. Why??? Souvenir? hiding intimate thoughts? Were the Pieces destroyed? Were the Pieces kept? I’ve just no clue.

More about these letters, and Emma’s impression, in some later post.

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Light Housekeeping

September 12, 2010 at 11:17 am (research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Do take a moment to check out a few new *pages*. I’ve created one page about various “missing” parts of this research, as well as acknowledged those that have come to light in private hands (special thank you to people who have contacted me; and to Alan, who continues to send scans as he finds new letters).

Readers will find all the page links under CAN YOU HELP (see PAGES, to the right), but the most important is the one entitled Where are these items?


NB: I worked on these pages while listening to the LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS, on Vermont Public Radio. Oh, to be in London again…

The Smiths & Goslings would have been EXACTLY the type to subscribe to such concerts year after year after year (lucky people, no?). One thought: the London Season in their day would NOT have been the hot summer months, but the winter months of January/February through spring (depending on when Easter fell); the plays, parties and operas continued for the Smiths & Goslings into the month of June.

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Dash It All–

September 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Came across this interesting article from Australia in which Jane Austen’s penmanship, punctuation and pungent sentences come in for a bit of scrutiny. How apropos! Since one thing that is always at the forefront of conducting primary research is contending with handwriting!

Forming the base of the article: The two chapters cut from Persuasion, the only extant manuscript penned by Austen (if we don’t count the copied-out juvenilia).

Having a copy of Modert’s Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, I really don’t think Austen’s writing difficult to read (on the other hand imagine if this book had been published with the even better images now possible in the digital age!); and so little cross writing. In fact the quirk of Austen’s letters are those written with much white-space so that the next “layer” of writing comes upside-down, but in between this first “layer” of writing.

Examining actual letters (from the Gosling and Smith families — though I did read a couple written by Cassandra Austen!), you see with what a fine line (ie, a well-sharpened quill) most people wrote. The difference between a dot (period) and a comma often quite difficult to discern. And dashes? Hell! I use them all the time! Who doesn’t?

And if commas are thought of as a “pause” when reading aloud, then many of Austen’s commas make great sense.

If Austen can be described as having a “closely written” hand, then the writer of this article has NEVER read anything written by the likes of young Augusta Smith (aka Augusta Wilder)! Yow!

(The execrable handwriting of the likes of Lady Elizabeth Dickins I won’t even mention…)

I must comment on the comment about underlining: Seeing as I transcribe as closely as possible, I use underlining rather than italicizing. Once, an editor changed the underlined words into italics. Hate to say, but, it just was not the same! And how to include two or even three lines?!? If I remember correctly, one of the editors working with Queen Victoria’s letters kept the original emphasis — one, two or even three underscores — intact. I like to do the same with Emma, Mary and all the rest, too.

  • From Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, read a graphologist’s thoughts on Jane’s handwriting <broken link; try this link instead>. I see a LOT of the same characteristics in the Smith/Gosling papers.
  • To learn about the “mechanics” of writing in the period of the Quill Pen, see JASNA’s Persuasions On-Line, in an article by Robert Hurford.
  • To see an actual piece of Austen’s writing, there is none better than the British Library’s presentation of her The History of England, with (we must give the artist her due) the fabulous drawings of Cassandra Austen.
  • The BBC and Chawton Cottage (Louise West) in conversation.

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Lady Travellers

September 5, 2010 at 11:08 am (books, fashion, people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

With so much information, I sometimes find myself flitting from one decade to another; Mark’s diary sent me back to 1798, the early days of marriage, and the victories of Nelson; Angela’s letter catapulted me to Rome in the 1820s, yet sent me looking for information on Rossini’s visit to London in 1824. (Young Augusta writes of his being invited to a party; a most amusing section of this delightful letter!) I have shelves of books; some read long ago, others purchased because their content interested me at one time or they were a fortuitous find. One book I recall breezing through (evidently in August/September 2005; the Alibris packing slip is still in the book) is The Grand Tours of Katherine Wilmot: France 1801-3 and Russia 1805-7, edited by Elizabeth Mavor — author of the only biography of the Ladies of Llangollen; her name on the cover was the reason for this purchase!

Although the Russian journal was interesting, Katherine (c1773-1824) was journalizing for a different reason with the earlier, French, journal: Her brother was the ultimate recipient. In France, she was also a traveller, rather than a house guest (of the formidable Princess Dashkov). Mavor calls the French journals ‘remarkably uninhibited,’ and indeed Katherine speaks with a remarkably modern voice! Makes me a bit more determined to get more written by the women of this family – although I already have the published journals/letters of her sister Martha (1775-1873), for Martha lived in one of my favorite capitals (about which so little is EVER written): Vienna.

Luck was against me when I looked at — but with me when I looked at my preferred site (I love that you can read online or download page the page images of a genuine book) Internet Archive: there is the 1920 publication of these same French journals, under the somewhat misleading title of An Irish Peer on the Continent as Related by Catherine Wilmot (yes, please note that you will find her name spelled both with a ‘C’ as well as with a ‘K’).

Must confess: Funny to see the publisher’s address — Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. Jane Austen’s brother Henry resided for a time in Henrietta Street! Small world. [BTW, Le Faye’s Austen Letters designates Henry’s abode as No. 10, and claims the upper facade to be as it would have looked when Jane stayed there.]

At 227 pages, this earlier publication gives even more of the journals, although (given the title) obviously the focus is supposedly less on Katherine herself and more on her travel-companions, Lord and Lady Mount Cashell. And yet, Katherine, as author, is never far away of course!

So let me share with you some of Katherine’s bon mots, but first let’s set the scene —-

“At this time there were special reasons to draw the world to France. The War of 1793-1801, the first phase of the Napoleonic campaigns, had precluded travelling in that country, and, taking into consideration the disturbances there since 1789, it may be said to have been closed to tourist for almost a decade” [Thomas Sadleir, in his introduction].

It is “An 10” — Year 10, of the new French Calendar.

Paris 24 Nov. 1801 — whoever follows my directions will infallibly find himself precisely where I am this moment, dazzled, delighted, and bewildered by everything I behold. But not to anticipate, I must take you back with me to London every step of the ways, that you may cross from Dover to Calais with all due formality….

The 29th Novr. at 3 o’clock in the morning, we got on board the ‘Countess of Elgin,’ commanded by Captain Sampson, and Lady Mount Cashell smuggled in her suite, Monsieur Amoulin, a young Frenchman, who couldn’t get a passport…. After a desperately rough passage of 5 hours, and a cruel delay before we were permitted to land, occasion’d by our names being written down and reported to the municipality….[W]e were taken to the Custom House, transferr’d from thence to the municipal officers, and then to the examination of the commissaires. They were the most shocking sharks I ever saw altogether; even after trunks, Pocket Books, Writing Cases, Green baize bags, &c., were quietly deliver’d in, they put their hands into our pockets and then felt down our sides, even to our ankles, for contraband commodities….

Monday 30th Novr. …you will laugh at me when I confess to you the flash of transport I experienced in saying to myself ‘I absolutely then am in France,’ and in drawing aside the Curtain of my Bed to prove it to myself, by contemplating the Painted ceiling, the white marble Tables, the looking-glass panels, the polish’d oak floor, and all the little circumstances of difference in the Apartment… I lost my balance — and down I flump’d upon the floor to the utter destruction of all my glorious visions and abhorring those prodigious looking glasses…

Sunday, Dec. 13th, or (as they call it here) le dimanche ce 12me Frimaire, An 10.…a family of the name of Rose walk’d into the room as if they had suddenly step’d off of Pedestals. They were the first French ladies I had seen and such was the dress of the three demoiselles that I thought some of the Statues out of the Louvre had suddenly caught animation, and were come to return the compliments we had paid them in the morning. Nothing could look more like a little ‘Diana’ than Victoire, in light (almost transparent) drapery, no sleeves to her gown but gold chain twisted round the upper part of her Arm, into the form of a bracelet and her neck entirely seen. She was remarkably pretty and wore her hair with a crescent like a goddess. Her two sisters were in the same style, but had their hair twisted into long snaky curls, form their foreheads down to their chins, and greas’d with (what is call’d) Antique oil. Madame, their Mother, was too much en bon point to have such a sylphlike appearance as her daughters. But she did not add to her size by too much covering.

Ah, time for another cup of tea, and maybe a few Licorice All-Sorts (a treat found at TJ Maxx), and a serious read of my new “find”. I’m in the mood to be in France, awaiting a glimpse of Napoleon — though the Mount Cashell party travelled extensively these two years: including to Italy and even to my beloved Vienna.

Oh, before I forget — links to the online books! An Irish Peer and the Wilmot memoirs of Princess Dashkov, vol. 1 and vol. 2. These memoirs had to be smuggled out of Russia as the Wilmots made a hasty leave-taking; a great tale on its own!

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It’s Arrived!

September 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm (books) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Today’s mail brought my long-awaited copy of David Selwyn‘s new book: Jane Austen and Children. Many thanks to JASNA News book review editor Sue Parrill for getting me this review copy.

Blog readers know that I thought Hazel JonesJane Austen and Marriage simply smashing. This combined information culled from Austen’s novels, her letters, letters & diaries & autobiographies from the period — including from the diaries and letters of my dear Eliza Chute of The Vyne. So I’m hoping for equally-stimulating reading from the well-known Selwyn.

The publisher is the same: Continuum. The layout of the books are similar: a timeline-chronology. In this instance Selwyn takes readers from the confinement of the mother, through infancy, childhood and into maturity. I’m hoping for a great ride!

Since the review is destined for JASNA News, I’ll only give some rough ideas on this blog about my thoughts (non-JASNA members will have to wait for the review to appear online: see — but reading the first pages and having Sense and Sensibility in mind, let me make a few comments that certainly will never find their way into a book review.

Blog readers will know my passion for anything “first-hand”, be it published letters, biography, autobiography — especially by women, British women, 18th and 19th century British women. One book I came across (which, being old and long out of print and very expensive now) was the oh-so-wonderful A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Style Album. This album, which resides at the V&A, was published in full color back in 1987, edited by Natalie Rothstein. My original post on that book may be found here.

So how have I gotten from “children” to “fashion”??? Rothstein’s introduction to the life of Barbara Johnson introduced me to another book of interest: Opening the Nursery Door: Reading, Writing and Childhood, 1600-1900 (1997), by Morag Styles and Mary Hilton. That book discusses the mother of Barbara Johnson — and her thoughts on childhood education. These authors even comment on how education for the Johnson children could be considered in the light of a reading of Austen’s Emma. David Selwyn opens his book’s introduction with comments on books, toys and education for children. My mind immediately flew to Jane Johnson.

When Selwyn writes of children being viewed as “natural innocents,” how hard — having just finished Sense & Sensibility — not to wonder: Is that a good description of Marianne? at her young age, was she still a “natural innocent” until her rude awakening via Willoughby?

Certainly Eliza and Willoughby’s child — which Austen never reveals the sex of: boy or girl? — must be one that Selwyn would classify among those thought of as (according to the dust jacket) “children in the way”.

And, after S&S with its pointed play (and display!) between Proud Mothers Mrs John Dashwood and Lady Middleton, who could ever accuse Selwyn of wrong-mindedness when he writes of children being for Austen “a source of comedy”.

A great gift, a new book, to have for a holiday weekend. I know what I will be ‘laboring’ over.

BTW: To read my review of Jones, Jane Austen and Marriage click here.

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