Happy Birthday, Fanny

October 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm (diaries, history, news, research) (, , , , , , )

Today – October 28 – is the 208th birthday of Fanny Smith / Fanny Seymour of Kinwarton.

Fanny first took on a life of her own when I was invited to give a talk in the Kinwarton-area on her. At the time, I was in Hampshire, researching the diaries and letters at the Record Office in Winchester; it was amazing how suddenly Fanny stood out from the crowd. Indeed: Seek and ye shall find.

READ the Kinwarton letter for yourself.

Her letter — found online — was one of the first I ever tracked down. Thanks to also tracking down its owner, Alan in Alcester, I was given access to other letters he had collected over the years from the family; this included one from Mary Lady Smith!

Fanny has a tight and tidy hand, with a slightly lesser tendancy to “cross” her writing than some of her sisters… She certainly seemed to have felt the plight of being much farther north (Warwickshire) than her siblings. There’s so much known about Fanny — yet so much more to uncover.

The thrill, today, however, was to hear about Mike H’s trip to Oxford — and his look at Fanny’s sketches of Tring Park!

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Some “Jane Austen” Fans

October 20, 2011 at 7:47 am (fashion, history, jane austen, jasna, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

In my paper for the JASNA AGM (the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America), I made mention of the FIRE SCREENS passed around the London household of the Ferrars family. They had been gifts — painted by Elinor Dashwood for her sister-in-law Fanny — and were now under scrutiny by the formidable Mrs Ferrars!

My comment, too, was under scrutiny, for I of course concluded that Elinor’s fire screens were painted and probably wood — though the more I thought about the 183os Princeton letter, with a trip up North for the Smiths (and Caroline Austen!), I considered a good bet also that the material was papier mâché. The Smiths had toured just such a factory (and Maria, the letter’s author, so wished to buy something for Mamma – but the price was evidently beyond her pocketbook that day).

My questioner insisted the screens were embroidered. I said I would look into it, though we settled then and there — thanks to an audience member with the book in hand — that Elinor’s was “painted” and therefore embroidery was quite doubtful. I have a feeling the annotated edition of S&S makes mention of embroidery, but I’d not looked for a copy of the book yet. Chapman makes no mention.

Now, my assumption was of a small pole screen:

These were made so that the “shield” could slide up and down the “shaft”, turn a bit left or right. The back has a “ring” that you tighten — so I assume they come off their pole. Lifted off the “screen” itself could easily be passed around the room, until it lands in the hands of Mrs Ferrars.

The clue may lie in the fact that they had to be “mounted”; if that does not indicate the pole — which usually was nicely turned, and showed an inventive base and feet, “mounted” may indicate being placed within a frame and having a handle attached. For my JASNA roommate Sally believes Elinor’s fire screens to have been hand-held, fan-style FACE SCREENS, as seen below.

Click on the image to visit the website — this 1809 fan is FASCINATING!

NB: I will say I don’t quite believe in their “wax-based” cosmetics theory for the prevalence of face screens. Try sitting near a ROARING, BLAZING fire: you face feels the effects rapidly – dries out the eyes and mouth. You, too, would be happy to have a “screen”. But how prevalent cosmetics were within the Smith/Gosling circle is another question for another blog post!

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“My whole life had changed…”

October 17, 2011 at 8:25 pm (diaries, history, news) (, , , , , , , )

Tonight’s WCAX News broadcast ended with an author interview regarding Lynn Bonfield’s book on Alfred and Chastina Rix, a Peacham couple who migrated west for a better life than 1850s Vermont could offer.

A telling sentence in the interview:

“I picked up this old copy book. I opened it. I read the first entry and I knew my whole life had changed.”

EXACTLY how I felt when Mary Gosling and Lady Smith turned out to be the same person!

I felt myself saying to absent friends and family, “See!”, when I heard that Bonfield found this diary in 1972 (it was an uncatalogued manuscript) and has spent decades “compiling names and places from the diary.” Yes, YES, YES!

Suddenly, I feel less “alone”.

You can read the interview — and even watch the video — at the WCAX link here.

Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Chastina W. Rix, 1849-1854, a joint journal, “captures the turbulence of life and events during the gold rush era,” yet it is also “a personal…chronicle of a singular family’s separation and reunion.” Chastina stayed with her son in Vermont when Alfred left for the west, and she continued their journal, “describing her loneliness and fatigue as she labored to maintain the household.” She also “summariz[ed] Alfred’s frequent letters.” Thirty-eight illustrations and 356 pages makes this a to-look-for book.

Lynn Bonfield’s book blog has background news and reviews. Read it!

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Howdy from Texas and the JASNA AGM

October 15, 2011 at 11:33 pm (jane austen, jasna) (, , , , , , , )

How-dee!

Been some wonderful weather down here in Fort Worth, Texas — cloudless blue skies; warm days but some breeze. Can’t say I’ve seen much of the city, however what I’ve seen is quite lovely. This evening, for instance, on the Promenade (yes, those dressed in costumes walked the square; I don’t dress but I did walk!), a gorgeous building near Sundance Square was illuminated and the trumpeting figures on the sides of the facade stood out in full relief. A-ma-zing.

Some highlights:

  • Tried taking the public transportation (bus –> train to Fort Worth and the hotel); all worked well, but it took me nearly as long to get luggage, get bus, await train, and walk to hotel as it did to FLY from Manchester (NH) to Atlanta (GA)! 3 hours….
  • My Friday talk — “A House Divided? How the ‘Sister Arts’ Define the Dashwood Sisters” — went well. People seemed interested in hearing about music and opera, art and drawing and how the two elder Dashwoods somewhat personified the art they each practiced.
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner was on our own Friday; I had a cup of tea English Breakfast tea made with water in the coffee maker, and with half-and-half (no milk!). Lunch was a sandwich; I think it was turkey & cheese on a croissant. Not bad – but purchased in the hotel so a bit pri$ey. Thanks to the PRESS for TIME (am: last read-through of paper; lunch: really the last read-through and a little preparation — while the room was being cleaned…) dinner was going to be the bag of popcorn on offer for the evening’s movie marathon. Instead: it was pizza shared with screenwriter Andrew Davies, who sat down beside me. How kind. Can say that I ‘rubbed elbows and shoulders’ with him. If only some of his Austen “luck” would rub off on me.
  • an interesting talk on miniatures and hair tokens, with perhaps a source for helping to track down some of those “missing” portraits I know about.
  • a nice breakfast on Saturday with three British ladies (and much better tea than the day before!).
  • a lovely dinner Saturday night, followed by the promenade.
  • a fun talk (though it lacked any true “ending”) by Andrew Davies, with clips from Pride & Prejudice (of course), Northanger Abbey, Emma (EXCEPTIONALLY hysterical story behind that one!), and Sense & Sensibility.
  • the singing Cowboys, “(clap-clap-clap-clap), deep in the heart of Texas”.
  • a five-second face-to-face with Freydis Welland and her sister about their relatives: the Austen Leighs, Smiths of Suttons &c.
  • a wonderful roommate in JASNA board member Sally Palmer.

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Texas Beckons – Long and Winding Road nears its end

October 12, 2011 at 8:03 am (jane austen, jasna, news, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Today marks the beginning of the JASNA AGM long and winding road: I leave for Manchester, NH and a Thursday flight for Dallas-Fort Worth.

It has, indeed, been long and winding…

Was last year about this time that I proposed a paper to the Annual General Meeting 2011 of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Then came the acceptance! Hurrah, was my first thought; but it’s been much work — and time away from my beloved Smiths & Goslings. In the last month, when I might have been living life in 1830s England, transcribing Richard Seymour’s diaries, I’ve been looking to fine tune some Jane Austen writings. I’ve read Austen because she would have been Emma’s “Aunt”; Emma, on visits to Chawton, when she describes Cassandra Austen or Edward Knight, might have been rubbing elbows with a woman whose books she read (there is a diary notation of Mansfield Park in 1818). I’ve certainly learned a lot about life, reading Austen’s novels; and also learned about obscure aspects of her novelistic world by studying the Smiths & Goslings. Yet, I’ll be glad to get back to “work” come November. I’m missing “my people”!

I’ve never been West – so this will be a bit of a treat. Going book-looking in New Hampshire (if all goes well) at my favorite used bookstore: Old Depot No. 6, in Henniker.

Not a lot of book room in the suitcase, should the JASNA Emporium beckon…

Hope to keep you up-to-date while I’m at the AGM!

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A Young Lady of some education

October 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm (books, diaries, history, jasna, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

In working on some ideas for Emma, I’ve been reviewing a book I bought a couple months ago (and which was delayed about a month, thanks to US Customs…), Diary of a Betley Governess in 1812. Editor Mavis E. Smith had won me over with her earlier book on the Betley Hall household with the publication of Ellen Tollet’s diary of 1835.

My Emma — Miss Emma Smith — began her diary-keeping in 1815. Or, at least that is the earliest so far found! I do live in hope of more items, so why not hope for earlier diaries written by Emma, too? There is certainly talk of the schoolroom, their governesses, “holidays” granted for birthdays or visitors. The Smiths seem a happy family, with well-liked (loved even) governesses.

Then you read a book like that based on the unnamed governess to the four Tollet daughters of Betley Hall! I don’t know who to pity more: the girls for having this governess; or the young {presume…} lady given the task of educating four rambunctious girls?

Mavis Smith clearly has opinions on the strict governess, for she asks once or twice if the woman might not be a bit “unbalanced”. Yet, reviewing Mamma Smith’s assessment of her youngest child, Maria, which Jacky in Maidstone is lucky enough to own, don’t I find some choice comments made about this little scholar by her governess. For instance, written in December 1820, “Maria has shown more violence of temper, more irritability & impertinence I thought had belonged to her character; Miss Pond {the governess} has made frequent & strong complaints of her”. Yet my beloved Mamma follows up with these thoughts, “She {Maria} is not yet seven years old, & one cannot expect reason to be all powerful at that age.”

Any wonder why Mamma Smith is just a delight to know? From her diaries, and especially her letters, I have experienced many moments of laughter. (Mike H. at Tring Park School knows her “humour” as she describes the next tenants of Tring Park with some choice words!)

* * *

Off on another topic: The end of this week sees the much-anticipated JASNA AGM and the discussion of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was published 200 years ago (1811-2011). Wish me luck on presenting my paper! And I certainly hope I don’t get stuck at some airport, overnight, like I did last time I flew…

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Slowly Building those Blogs

October 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm (books, diaries, history, news) (, , , , , , , , )

Quick note on two new pages — in two new blogs:

My Ladies of Llangollen blog has had the writings of Marion Harland added — check it out

And my newest blog, where I hope to hear about some new books, and (sooner or later) discuss some old books: I call it Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices — it’s about published history, diaries, letters, biographies — there’s only two books at present. Help me add to it! The “ABOUT” will hopefully fill you in on the types of books you’re likely to find there.

Find more Ellen Tollet here and there

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