New York Times reviews Jane Austen

February 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , )

real austenClick the picture to go to the New York Times review of The Real Jane Austen.

(for my own review: click here)

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1796: ‘I fear much we shall be invaded’

February 16, 2013 at 11:45 am (chutes of the vyne, diaries, europe, history, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Maria, Lady Northampton — sister-in-law to Lady Frances Compton (see my last two posts) — kept up a healthy correspondence with her family back at Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire; letters to her sister Augusta have been preserved, and in them Lady Northampton makes frequent mention of the Militia, and also the general fear of invasion by French troops.

Maria Lady Northampton

These same rumors and feelings run strong in the letters of Mrs Lefroy, Jane Austen’s dear friend and the wife of the rector at Ashe. Mrs Lefroy was known to the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park; Sarah Smith, mother of Eliza Chute and Lady Northampton, wrote to Eliza, asking her to query Mrs. Lefroy about her ‘straw manufactory’ in early 1797.

In reviewing Lord Northampton’s chapter in the book A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates, there is much quoted from the 1790s letters of Lady Northampton to Augusta Smith (yeah!), at the time in the possession of Mr Scrase Dickins.

In the Spring of 1796, Maria could write of her blooming flower-garden; it is suspected that she painted flowers during this period. Works by the sisters of Earl Stoke Park (and their teacher, Miss Margaret Meen) are at the Royal Horticultural Society; type margaret meen into the search box. These particular flower paintings predominantly date from the 1780s.

Maria quipped that in spending the spring at Castle Ashby she was “rusticating in the country” while sister Augusta (and probably sisters Eliza and Emma as well) were “enjoying the town diversions.” As the winter months of 1796 descend, we begin to see mentions of the Militia – but Maria also comments, asking her sister, “What think you of the Memorial about peace; I fear it is very distant, and I fear much we shall be invaded.” Reading the quotes included in the book, it is an extremely TENSE time; mobs, rioting, troops quartered. Towards the end of one letter Maria could say, “one of our carpenters was the principal person at the riot at Yardley, and is of course no longer employed here.”

There exists also (in a private collection) a chatty letter from Eliza Chute to Augusta Smith, who is still feeling the effects of a fall, probably from a horse; a gossipy letter, written in French by ‘Auguste’ also comes from the early period of 1797. It seems as if the sisters are trying to buoy flagging spirits. Then more “news”: of a failed French invasion at Pembroke; banks stopping payments of gold. Amid all the fears and frivolity, Eliza Chute meets the new Mrs James Austen (Mary Lloyd): “she is perfectly unaffected, and very pleasant; I like her.” The Austens’ would hear soon of the death of Cassandra Austen‘s fiancé Tom Fowle; and sister Jane Austen would put the final touches on her manuscript, “First Impressions.” Life, never on hold because of war and civil unrest, going on…

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Lady Frances Compton’s Library

February 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm (books, chutes of the vyne, entertainment, europe, jane austen, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , )

Compton_Lady FrancesLady Frances Compton, sister of the 1st Marquess of Northampton of Castle Ashby, is just one of the many strong women I have come across in the extended Smith of Suttons family. You cannot image how thrilling it is to see a picture of her. And sold so long ago (see Sotheby’s 2006 auction). Her father’s miniature I had seen, but it’s hers I’m happy to see!

She is more easily tracked than her niece (and namesake), Lady Frances Elizabeth Compton (aka Lady Elizabeth Dickins, wife of Charles Scrase Dickins), and among the items unearthed yesterday are some BOOKS.

I have long been interested in the library holdings of the extended family. And was just overjoyed to be holding in my hands — thanks to a gift from Martyn Downer (author of, among other texts, Nelson’s Purse, which traces the friendship of Lord Nelson with Mary Gosling’s uncle, Alexander Davison) of an actual book once in the library of Mrs Gosling (her bookplate attachment). More about that important gift at a later date.

A small image of Lady Frances’ bookplate will continue my story.

bookplate_Lady FrancesThis appears in what seems to be a CURRENT sale of a book entitled, Wild Flowers, or, Pastoral and Local Poetry by Robert Bloomfield, published in 1806.

But there’s more out there…

This one is of great interest to me, being an ‘American Lady‘: Memoirs of an American Lady: with sketches and manners and scenery in America, as they existed previous to the Revolution. By the author of Letters from the Mountains, &c &c {Anne Grant}. Published in 1808. How wonderful to picture Lady Frances, whether in England or abroad on the Continent, sitting down to read about a woman who “spent her formative years” in Albany, New York — which is a few hours to the south of me in northern Vermont.

But there’s more….

A copy of Amelie Opie’s Valentine’s Eve (3 vols; 1816) also comes complete “Mit dem heraldischen Exlibris von Lady Frances Compton auf den Innendeckeln.” The seller is in Switzerland, a country which Lady Frances frequented.

And more…

Richard Johnson’s Lilliputian Library; Or, Gulliver’s Museum containing Lectures on Morality. Historical Pieces. Interesting Fables…. has a subscription list. Lady Frances began early then, as she is listed in this 1779 title.

Last, I will mention one academic library – King’s library at Miami University – which has in its Special Collections a volume once owned by Lady Frances. I LOVE the title, which I include in full: An essay on the art of ingeniously tormenting: with proper rules for the exercise of that pleasant art, humbly addressed; In the first part to the master, husband &c. In the second part to the wife, friend &c. with some general instructions for plaguing all your acquaintance.

I leave my best two thoughts for last.

The sellers of the first book, Wild Flowers, have possibly seen Deirdre Le Faye’s excellent Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family – for they cite the following as an inducement to purchase: “Lady Frances was a friend of the Austen family and frequently visited and dined with them.” Hmmmm….

And then there’s this:

The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets.

4 volumes. [6], 436; v, [1], 431; [4], 409 + [1] ad; [4], 452 pp. Copper-engraved frontispiece portrait of Johnson in Vol. I. 8½x5, period straight-grained red morocco ruled in gilt, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Attractive edition, in nice period bindings. With the bookplates of Mrs. Chute, and an ink inscription in the first volume, “Elizabeth Chute, Lady Francis Compton’s gift, 1799.”
Author: Johnson, Samuel
Place Published: London
Publisher Name: Printed for T. Longman, et al.
Date Published: 1794

lives_English Poets

Did Eliza really write her name as Lady Francis Compton?
The entire family (until Emma’s involvement with James Edward Austen)
did typical write Austin rather than Austen.
“Misspellings” make searches more challenging.

Check out Lot 6 from the same 2006 sale. Who was Lady Tara?

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Two Views of Lady Frances Compton

February 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm (british royalty, entertainment, fashion, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

Today I was backtracking, re-reading some correspondence of Sir Walter Scott. In 1815 he was meeting for the first time some of the family of Lord Compton — future husband to Margaret Maclean Clephane.

It was his description of Lady Frances Compton that made me seek out some more information. And unearthed this lovely little miniature of her!

In the Smith letters, Lady Frances hovers around the edges. She is often abroad (sometimes in company with Aunt Emma, I dare say). The siblings call her ‘Aunt Frances’. Funnily enough, Walter Scott seems to write of her as “Lady Francis Compton”. Maybe not an inappropriate spelling, given his story….

First, here is a glimpse of Lady Frances, at “Her Majesty’s Drawing-Room“, reported in La Belle Assemblée (1816):

Lady Frances Compton.

    A petticoat of white satin, with draperies of embroidered silver net; train of Saxon blue satin, trimmed with silver lama lace.

The occasion celebrated the marriage of HRH the Princess Charlotte.

Walter Scott’s comment on the lady is rather remarkable; he is writing a year earlier, in April 1815:

Compton_Lady FrancesI have missed the post and cannot help myself till Monday there being none tomorrow in this God fearing and religious capital. I will see Lord G. after breakfast tomorrow perhaps before for I thought it necessary to accustom Lady Francis [sic] Compton to the voracity of a Scotchman at breakfast that she may not be surprised at the cousins whom the Isle of Mull may send upon an occasional visit and at breakfast you know I can match any highland man of them all. She is a spirited old lady fond of dogs and horses and had a pair of loaded pistols to defend her house in person when it was threatened in the corn bill riots.

(the miniature, left, sold at Sotheby’s in 2006)

Lady Frances died in February 1832, aged 74 – making her about 57 when Scott found her “a spirited old lady”. I like the fact that she could wield a brace of pistols!

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Tom Tit – Portrait of a Horse

February 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm (chutes of the vyne, history, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

Yes, you read that title correctly: my latest *find* is a portrait of one of the horses belonging to the Smiths of Suttons.

tom titTom Tit“, seen here in a detail of the portrait which hangs at The Vyne, is mentioned by name over several years.

In a letter written by young Drummond Smith, who was staying at The Vyne in January 1823, Mamma is told: “I am very much obliged to you for your letter… Uncle Chute went out hunting this morning, Spencer has been out twice and Tom Tit performed very well.”

Drummond, writing from Harrow in 1825, asks his sister Charlotte, “Have Fanny Emma and Augusta had any rides since they have been at Ashby, so Tom Tit has made another trip there….”

By the following July, staying with his newly-married brother Charles, Drummond is writing sister Fanny from Suttons: “Tom Tit is very well indeed (if that is any satisfaction to you)  I had the pleasure of riding him today…”

That year — March 1826 — Emma mentions the bay hunter; he is being ridden by Fanny and obviously “in Town” with the Smiths. Mary never mentioned the horse, but Charles did — and he put his young bride on Tom Tit’s back.

The portrait, by F. Margetts, dates to 1820. There is a second Vyne portrait (of Thunderbolt, another bay hunter; dated 1810), but I have been unable to find much about the artist.

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New “Belle Assemblee”

February 6, 2013 at 10:07 am (books, british royalty, entertainment, fashion, history, news) (, , )

la belle_1808Some “MAJOR” updating to the page on
La Belle Assemblée — eleven new finds!

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An “Emma” Riddle

February 5, 2013 at 9:47 pm (books, jane austen) (, , )

JAustenI remember well Mr Elton’s charade on Court-Ship, and Mr Weston’s “two letters … that express perfection“; I’m hoping blog readers can tell me where in Emma the following occurs:

“Riddles and puns are used with great effect to exploit the comic misunderstandings between Emma and Mr Elton (his riddle on ‘woodhouse’ is blithely misinterpreted by Emma), but with the arrival of Frank Churchill we see a master game-player.”  [The Real Jane Austen, p. 254]

What riddle on ‘woodhouse’??

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The Real Jane Austen (review)

February 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm (books, history, jane austen) (, , , , )

Jane Austen’s love struck Harriet Smith (Emma) collected trinkets cast off by the Rev. Mr Elton to which no one else would have given much attachment: a stub of pencil and a “court plaister”. Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things attempts to construct “scenes” from the novelist’s life through a series of objects. Some scenes are more successful than others; a few trot out the same stories found in most other Austen biographies.

real austenDespite the cover blurb about the “innovativeness” of examining a life through its objects, a similar context (using the subject’s actual artwork) was accomplished in 2011 by Molly Peacock in her admirable The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany begins her life‘s work at 72. Here, Byrne’s items are less personal, leading to a glossed-over view of the make-up of the Austen household (chapter 1) or the influence of the vivacious cousin, Eliza Hancock (chapter 2). Chapter 4 offers less-typical territory. In reviewing authors and reading matter known to have influenced Austen — evidenced by Fanny Burney’s subscription list for Camilla in which “Miss J. Austen, Steventon” appears — Byrne opens the door to a discussion of other “family” authors, Cassandra Hawke and Cassandra Cooke, as well as Burney herself. The chapter could have developed an in-depth look at the rise of the female writer, positioning Austen within the scope of those whom she admired (or disparaged). Instead, its thrust plays the same card found throughout Byrne’s biography: that Austen was a “born” writer, whose genius simply had to find the right outlet. Such a facile conclusion to many of the concepts fails to dig into the life and times of Austen or her family. The heft of the book is less dependent on the insightfulness of the chapters than to their proliferation (18 chapters; prologue and epilogue).

Those interested in the bicentenaries of Austen publications who may grab at The Real Jane Austen as a “first” biography (being new and readily available) will be rewarded in learning about Austen’s life, the “scenes” allowing for small bytes of information; anyone coming to the biography from the mass of other Austen biographies already out in the marketplace will happily read it, but also notice the well-trod ground Byrne walks. Byrne’s “revealing” method sounded ready to eschew the sameness of other biographies, which is the decided challenge when dealing with Austen’s life.

Despite all the “spilled ink,” there have been few new discoveries since the last Austen biography. Methodological approach, therefore, is all important. As is compelling writing. In the earliest chapters Byrne tends to passive voice, as when describing the objects singled out for contemplation:

“This is a watercolour of Lyme Regis on the southern coast of England… A man and a woman are walking on the beach and a solitary figure is looking out to sea. A rowing boat is on its way out to a ship at anchor in the bay.” [prologue]

“All the faces are turned towards the young boy. He is being passed to one of the two fashionably dressed women with powdered hair who are sitting at the table playing chess.” [chapter 1]

To begin each chapter with “a description of the image that sets its theme,” and then have the image represented opposite in a drawing (by Sara Mulvanny) rather than inserting its plate seems a bit of a wasted effort. (Plates are collected together, four pages at a time, a few chapters away.) It takes until chapter 4 to really “introduce” Jane Austen.

Not all the objects are “personal” items; but each does cause Byrne to narrow her focus. The brothers fare better, with more concentrated treatment; for instance, Henry Austen in Ch. 7 ‘The Cocked Hat’ and “the sailor brothers” in Ch. 14 ‘The Topaz Crosses’.  Sister Cassandra Austen, in the chapter ‘The Sisters’ (the image is a dual portrait of sisters-in-law Charlotte Trevanion [née Hosier] and Georgiana Trevanion), never really leaves the period of Cassandra’s engagement and bereavement. To have looked at Cassandra’s life beyond the lifetime of her sister would have been welcome. Byrne’s assessment of Cassandra donning “widow’s weeds” (as opposed to being dressed in mourning for her fiancé Tom Fowle) leads to the presumption that from that point onwards both Austens pointedly decide to remain spinsters. Byrne heavily associates Austen’s life experiences as coloring her fiction. It is fun to wonder if Austen satirized a relation or sentimentalized a gift, say, of a topaz cross. This mindset does bring insight to certain moments from the novels, but one must tread carefully not to ascribe too much to biographical claim. Or to supposition without supporting evidence.

Reading Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is like listening to Public Radio lately: always enjoyable, but many performances of the same work. Radio has to contend with tightening fiscal budgets; one assumes finances not a problem for Byrne, or HarperCollins. Perhaps the constraint was time: Get out a biography while the Portrait controversy is still warm. It is puzzling, for instance, that many online sources were accessed in the summer of 2012. The biography in fact cites a Persuasions article about the portrait that is yet to be published (Byrne saves a short mention of her “Jane Austin” portrait till the end — Ch. 17, ‘The Royalty Cheque’). As the chapters progress, the thrust of each becomes more focussed, more probing. Time spent in culling dull phraseology (“Jane Austen loved…”), or in honing the point behind the choice of each object would have produced a tighter argument for the presentation of Austen’s life via the “highly innovative technique” of chapter themes.

The most absorbing chapters fully utilize their objects to explore Austen’s life and, of course, her work. In spite of a few mistakes (including the dust jacket, which IDs the adopted Edward Knight as Jane’s eldest brother), a few over-reaching suppositions, and some little repetition, the themes raised in The Real Jane Austen will entice its audience to give Austen’s own works a well-deserved, and better-informed, (re)read.

three and a half filled ink wells

* * *

The Guardian (UK)

The Independent (UK)

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