Best Wishes for 2011!

December 31, 2010 at 10:25 am (books) (, , , , , , )

The news today, as I turned the radio on (always set to Vermont Public Radio’s “classical” station!) was the New Year’s Honours List recipients. Among them named, actor David Suchet (“M. Poirot”) and biographer Antonia Fraser.

As someone living in the “hinterlands,” working on the project of a lifetime, I can’t help but think how charmed my efforts would have been had I Antonia Fraser’s background: her mother, Lady Longford. Even Lady Longford’s grand-daughter, Flora Fraser, benefitted.

How Elizabeth Longford got into the “biography” business, I’ve no clue – right place at the right time, in some respects, I’m sure. There were masses of biography, letters, diaries, coming out of England in the 20s, 30s, 40s — that would have been a great foundation to build upon, an audience ready and waiting. Even today, the British are intent on history, family history, house history. It was a thrilling atmosphere to be in, working at the Hampshire Record Office for two months. People so inquisitive, so interested.

Lady Longford’s 2002 BBC Obituary mentions she was “in her 50s before she produced her first historical work”. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet!

I was looking at Newspapers yesterday; found mention of William Gosling attending “the Prince Regent’s Levee” in 1811 (about which I will write later). I mentioned it to my mother at dinner – was just busting to do so; I’m sure she was quite bored… How wonderful, as Lady Longford’s obituary in The Times suggests, to have had a “life spent among intellectuals for whom the production of books of all kinds was at least as natural as the production of children.” (The Longfords had eight children.) “Her own historical writings combined erudition and thorough research with wide appeal.” Who can ask for more!?

Interestingly, the obituary goes on to say “…and sure enough, Elizabeth Longford kept a diary and encouraged all her children to do the same.” And gotta love this sentence, near the end: “Needless to say, an aristocrat writing about royalty was an irresistible recipe for publishers, readers and Americans” (my emphasis)!

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Remember the Ladies!

December 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm (people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , )

Although my interest lies in the letters of ABIGAIL ADAMS during her stays abroad (England, France), when I heard that Vermont Public Radio had Joseph Ellis‘ talk about the family Correspondence, I just had to link to the page and encourage readers to give it a listen!

The actual letters (and much more) are to be found at The Massachusetts Historical Society.

I found this poster when preparing my talk “Austen/Adams” — it’s rather crude, like so many Austen images, that I rather “like” it.

I must say, since it had been years since I read Abigail’s letters: There is much to be learned about England at the time she travelled there and what life was like for Jane Austen. No one notices things like an astute woman; and Mrs Adams wrote so well of her impressions.

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I can Dream, can’t I?

December 26, 2010 at 11:14 am (books) (, , , , )

The last couple days I have been enjoying a bit of a departure — a diary, but much later (1870s) and written by a young Russian girl currently living in Nice.

The book is volume 1 (I don’t believe volume 2 was ever published as a book, though the author, Katherine Kernberger, has used a CD-rom version in her classes), of the diaries of Marie Bashkirtseff, entitled I am the Most Interesting Book of All.

Marie is fourteen when the first diary entries were written, and has all the exuberance of such a young girl. It is in that manner that she differs so widely from Emma Smith! Emma’s entries are short, to-the-point and about what she does, rather than what she thinks. Marie’s often focus on her thoughts about her looks, her hopes and dreams, her romantic attachments. Her very preoccupations give me such food for thought about my two girls!

I am the Most Interesting Book of All, was published in 1997. I found it, as a used book, in a Burlington shop not long after (I presume!) and found at least one wonderful website on Marie, whose diaries are held at the Bibliotheque Nationale. I will have to see if I can find out more information on the ultimate ‘fate’ of volume 2. But I see used copies of this first volume on sale at Amazon for less than $2! A steal!! Snap it up! Read the rest of this entry »

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Vermont Bookworms

December 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm (books) (, , , , , , , , )

Great article in our local “7 Days” magazine on bookstores — most of which sell used books (my personal favorites). I’ve been to most of them over the years. It’s always great fun to find a book you never ever knew about, sitting, dusty, on some piled upon shelf… But I have to admit that I internet book-look almost as much, intent on particular titles. The farthest away a book has ever come? Australia! That was a bio on Queen Charlotte (1976; the only one around really), by Olwen Hedley. She also wrote a terrific “biography” of Windsor Castle! (among other offerings, I see, when I search her name on [my favorite site])

In fact, up in St. Albans this summer, I stopped by The Eloquent Page; I hadn’t been in since their move into the present building. Found a great book in which WILLIAM GOSLING (Mary’s father) was mentioned!!!

Unless you seek, you never find books you didn’t know to be out there….

Enjoy the article — and patronize these shops, if you get the chance.

Queen Charlotte, of England – royal bookworm?

Read: Miss Smith meets the Queen Read the rest of this entry »

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Google Doodle

December 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm (news, people) (, , , , )

In case you missed it, here’s what appeared 16 Dec 2010

There also appeared in early December a Wall Street Journal article on “young” Austen fans. My question: Does anyone ever refer to the likes of Shakespeare as “the long dead”? Pretty self-evident, if you’ve celebrated your 235th birthday (but a bit annoying a phrase, nonetheless…).

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Six Degrees of Separation

December 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was thinking last night: Emma Smith has a Beethoven connection! How so? you might ask… Through his pianoforte!

I uncovered this little tidbit when researching the Knyvett family — Charles Knyvett Sr., and his sons Charles and William — for an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine.

Let’s start at the beginning: How I even came to know the name Knyvett.

Emma Smith’s diaries, especially in her teen years, are replete with concerts, operas, soirées, music masters and home-concertizing. She mentions all three Knyvett men as well as William Knyvett’s second wife, the singer Deborah Travis.

♦ see pictures of the Knyvetts at the New York Public Library ♦

For the article, I pulled out Emma-quotes specific to each family member, and gave each a little biographical study. “Space” considerations meant that, in the end, a lot of information ended up on the “cutting room floor”. Including a lengthy section about Beethoven and his piano. The conundrum that still exists concerns the fact that there were two Charles Knyvetts. Even a well-respected publication like Grove’s Dictionary interchanged the two men, father for son’s accomplishments and son for father’s accomplishments. Without a LOT of digging, it may be that we can never get certain attributions correct.

It does seem that the convention of the time (if we speak of when all three men were active, musically, then the 1790s-1810s) was to refer to the men as KNYVETT (Charles Sr.), C. KNYVETT (Charles Jr.), and W. KNYVETT (William).

In 1817, the famed London pianoforte manufacturer, THOMAS BROADWOOD, “sent” Beethoven a gift:

♦ read about Beethoven’s piano at Bonn’s Beethoven-Haus

The story says that Broadwood invited five known musicians/composers to be part of the gift; they signed a presentation label within the piano. The gentlemen are given as: Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Baptist Cramer, Jacques-Godefroi Ferrari and Charles Knyvett. But which Charles Knyvett? is my question.

The Broadwood returned to England in 1992, for restoration. Yet, it didn’t come from Bonn — but from BUDAPEST, having once belonged to Franz Liszt!

♦ Watch on YouTube the Pianoforte’s Restoration ♦

Part 1 (of 5) offers information on Broadwood’s idea of the gift, Beethoven’s receipt of the piano in Vienna, and why it ended up in the Hungarian National Museum. The actual discussion of the instrument is FASCINATING! Really puts in perspective the types of pianos Mozart and Beethoven used (late 18th century; Viennese), as well as why this Broadwood is such a special instrument.

Tonight, I’ll give my “guess” as to which Charles Knyvett was the “helper” in this gift exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

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December 16th

December 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm (books, jasna, news, people, places) (, , , , , , , , )

An important day, historically:

  • Jane Austen born at Steventon (Hampshire, England), her father’s rectory, 16 December 1775
  • Ludwig van Beethoven at Bonn, birth ‘celebrated’ on 16 December 1770, but the only known date is for his baptism on the 17th.
  • Marriage of Emma Smith to James Edward Austen, only son of the eldest son of the Revd. George Austen, 16 December 1828.
  • And the annual publication date of the latest edition of Persuasions On-Line, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).


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Check this out

December 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm (books) (, , , , , , , , )

For fans of period drama, courtroom drama, British drama — check out this 2009/2010 series Garrow’s Law (the DVD pictured is series one). Andrew Buchan stars as William Garrow; the always excellent Alun Armstrong is his solicitor, Mr. Soutous.

If, like me, you can’t get enough (the DVD not available in the States until early 2011), try and find it online. You’ll really want to see the entire two series, trust me!

If you’re the history buff who wants more about Garrow’s actual life (was there a Sir Arthur and Lady Sarah Hill, for instance, you might ask), then see Hostettler & Braby’s biography Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times, and Fight for Justice.

Why is it the US gets so-so shows quickly, and programs like Garrow’s Law are kept under wraps? Many thanks to the fans who post such shows! The second series ran in the UK only in the fall; but I know I’m not alone in waiting for the next series. Hope the BBC doesn’t keep us waiting. Those of us hungry for quality writing and acting have few things to look forward to at the best of times.

Find the Old Bailey records online; they have long been a great source to my research. Sir Francis Gosling shows up numerous times (the accused often brought before him); there are many Goslings in the records — some accused of theft, others are the victims; a careful reading finds the Goslings who make up this family. See, for instance, this case about the stolen clothing of Mary Ann Hardcastle.

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Imagine all the horses

December 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm (a day in the life, people, places, research) (, , , , )

My father well recalls his early years with horses; theirs was a home where the horse was still a main mode of transportation. We’ve had many a wonderful conversation about his memories, as well as “life with horse”.

But I grew up in a city! And well into the period where “car” was the only transport.

So I post today to see if anyone out there, well versed in the horse culture, especially when horse and carriage was the only means of transportation, can help.

I envision what it must have been like to be living on Portland Place, London, in 1814, when the Goslings readied to journey to Oxford. Mary Gosling writes of the journey itself; where they stopped; what they visited; when they arrived in Oxford. But: How would the household have gotten everything ready for the family to depart? Who would have done what so that when the Master of the house and his family descended, they could just enter the carriage, and be off.

I have my conjectures, of course, but would welcome some first-hand knowledge of what was required, what was done, how long it took.

Diaries are great! but describing the running of a house are not usually  included! (If anyone knows of such a diary or diaries; published books, etc; do let me know.) That would be like writing down getting into one’s car on a wintry December day: dust off snow, scrape ice; if you stop for gas, how you pump gas… etc etc. We all know HOW it’s done, so who would bother to describe it?! Similarly, Mary doesn’t bother with such minutiae overly familiar to her.

How does one harness a horse? Who would have been responsible for what? Was the carriage (and presumably there was more than one to choose from) pulled out and then the horses fitted into the traces? How? by whom? Would the driver have overseen stable lads? Or was his arrival timed to happen just before his passengers came down?

The one thing the diaries and letter DO describe is accidents; so I chose to illustrate this post with a great “action” picture by my favorite, Diana Sperling.

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Martha Ballard’s Diary

December 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm (books, research) (, , , , , , , , )

As I hone the earliest chapter of my book — which will set the tone for the whole, I pick up once again a book owned since 1990: A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, based on her Diary, 1785-1812.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won the Pulitzer for this history of Martha Ballard, Hallowell (Maine), and Ballard’s life as midwife.

I remember well finding this book. We used to have a small “family” bookstore not too far from where I lived in Essex (this, in the years before stores like Burlington’s Chasman & Bem and then the mega-mega Barnes & Noble in South Burlington). In its earliest years it was called The Little Professor; another branch (same owner? I’ve no idea) did once exist on Church Street, in Burlington — but I’m not sure it was still there at this time. In both shops, there were creaky wooden floors, the cash to the right of the door, and simple shelves along the walls and in the middle of the store.

In Essex, I always took a look at the foreign coins on sale in the case straight ahead from the door; bought a couple over the years: British shillings and old Irish pence. Then you came to the modest “History” section. Just four or five shelves, with room to display some books face on, while others just showed their spine-titles.

Crouched to look at the shelves nearest the floor is how I came face-to-face with Martha Ballard. Was it the title? Maybe it sat with its front cover peering straight at you. But I can bet it was the earliest book based on a diary that I purchased; as well, the earliest in which a woman from some historical period of the past was discussed.

Needless to say, my collection has grown since!

But it is interesting, as my book begins with Mary Gosling’s travels, in particular to Oxford, and I envision the hubbub of readying horses and carriages in the stables attached to a grand London home of a rich banker, to see that Ulrich begins with the mighty river of the Kennebec – frozen river, rushing river, spring freshets. There is much for a writer to learn in READING the writing of others.

So I close this brief mention of Martha Ballard, by including a link to a long-standing website in which the original diary — in transcription as well as in its handwritten form — can be seen: It is also a great opportunity for blog  readers to see an original diary!

Few realize that I wear many hats in this research: research “assistant”, transcriber, typist among them. Pick up any published book by a well established writer and there’s someone who helps find material, someone else who prepares material for the author. Sometimes I feel like a one-man band! Just wish I could pursue it 24/7. So this website is a wonderful opportunity for readers to see not only an original document, but what can be done with and to it. I sure wish I had the possibility of ‘enhancing faded ink’, as mentioned on this page. And as I’ve worked both with microfilm as well as original documents, the photos displaying glare retouched and shadows lightened shows what technology can do.

I have had such “technology” thoughts, when transcribing Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary (the Mark Woodford Diary) — she must have recorded IN PENCIL many of her petty purchases and wins or losses at cards, now only faint indentations on the page. Each gives information about life in English society at that moment, and is precious; I managed to decipher just a few — I’m sure “technology” could uncover more. Though few beyond me would revel in such ‘trivia’.

An interesting item to note is Ulrich’s discussion of earlier uses of Martha Ballard’s diary: an 1870 history of Augusta, Maine by James W. North; another History of Augusta by Charles Elventon Nash, in which “a third” of Nash’s 600-page book consisted of an abridgement of Martha Ballard’s diary (mainly birth/death information evidently); as well as a 1970s “feminist” history of midwifery. Each time Ulrich gives readers what those earlier authors thought of Ballard’s diary: “with some exceptions not of general interest”, “trivial and unimportant”, “filled with trivia about domestic chores and pastimes”. But life is “trivia”-filled and often not more than “daily chores”. Whenever I read about The Memoir of Jane Austen or Henry Austen’s short “biography” being negatively cited because they claim that Austen’s life was nothing more than “uneventful”, I ask myself: whose life IS truly “eventful”?? I could never say mine is. So what do present-day English professors really want Austen’s life to have been characterized as? Was Martha Ballard’s life “eventful”? To her, even the tragedies of her life were just everyday occurrences. But that can never remove from lives like hers, like Austen’s, like Mary’s or Emma’s, the human drama bound up in that very “trivia” of daily life.

Ulrich discusses how Ballard would be nothing more in the history books than a birth date, a death date and in between notations of marriage and children. But — because her diary was written, kept and still exists — she too exists.

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