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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