Visiting 11 Jane Austen Locations

October 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, travel) (, , )

My surprise came from seeing among the “11 Jane Austen Locations in the U.K. to Visit on Your Next Reading-Inspired Adventure” (a 2015 article) the one large estate most closely related to my Smith & Gosling research: Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire.

Castle Ashby was (and still is) the seat of the Marquess of Northampton. In Emma Austen’s youth this was “Uncle Northampton,” the 9th Earl and 1st Marquess of Northampton; the title then devolved to Emma’s cousin (the 1st Marquess’ only son), Spencer Compton – who usually appears in these blog posts under the title he carried while his father was still alive, Lord Compton. Compton married Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane. Both of them pop up in many Two Teens in the Time of Austen posts.

I visited the archives at Ashby in 2014, and (of course) have many of Emma’s “Castle Ashby” impressions and stories at my finger tips.

The Castle Ashby Gardens are open to the public, but the house is a private residence. So why include it on a to-do list of houses to visit for Jane Austen fans? Its appearance in an issue of Country Life holds the key.

Mansfield Park

Some sites, like Plymouth’s Saltram House, are on the list because of films.

The Jane Austen Center in Bath is a given, as one of the few “museums” dedicated to the author; ditto the Jane Austen’s House Museum and its neighbor Chawton House.

Stoneleigh Abbey has a “Leigh” family connection (the “Leigh” of the Leigh-Perrots, Mrs. Austen’s brother and sister-in-law), which Stoneleigh exploits quite a bit in tourist advertising and tours. Mrs. Austen’s letter home chatters on in great detail about the Austen visit to Stoneleigh in 1806.

  • NB: Leigh family papers at the Huntington Library (California) is completely online, in a very useful digital collection.

Also on Emma Oulton’s “11 Jane Austen sites” list (of course) is Austen’s grave, inside Winchester Cathedral.

Some sites come straight from the books: Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) mentions “the Island”, which to her indicates the Isle of Wight (much as Emma Austen and Lady Smith call London “Town”). Emma Woodhouse (Emma) visits Box Hill – a “vista” that a kind friend drove me to experience for myself in October 2016. Also on the list, Gretna Green – although Lydia Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) did not cross the border into Scotland, but remained (unmarried…) somewhere in London.

Then, the realm of “inspiration” and Oulton’s “must visit” list takes a bit of an unexpected turn: Tintern Abbey for its gothic inspiration. Chatsworth more for its supposed “Pemberley” inspiration than its film location persona. And this is where and how CASTLE ASHBY appears. All thanks to a Country Life article that got picked up by The Telegraph in 2015.

Ashby’s archivist had mentioned to me in 2014 that some Jane Austen scholar had “a theory about Ashby,” but it wasn’t until The Telegraph article got emailed that I tracked down the origin article. Relooking for this blog post, I found one blogger’s thoughts to be RIGHT ON target when it comes to writing and what could be behind any writer’s “inspiration”.

Mansfield Park2

Margaret C. Sullivan’sWill Jane Austen’s Real Inspiration Please Stand Up” specifically addresses issues concerning a writer’s “inspiration” and, obliquely, the theory Dr. Robert Clark (University of East Anglia) had set in motion.

Clark’s rationale is the genealogy of “Uncle Northampton” and Spencer Perceval, the member for Northampton who became Prime Minister and who has gone down in history as the only British Prime Minister assassinated while in office.

The Percevals (Spencer and his elder brother Lord Arden) were cousins of Lord Northampton. Lady Northampton (Emma’s aunt) was the eldest sister of Eliza Chute of The Vine; the Chutes were neighbors of the Austens – ergo: six degrees of separation and Jane Austen’s “inspiration” for Mansfield Park (the estate) was (fanfare, please: ta-da!) Castle Ashby.

You are invited to seek out Clark’s Country Life article (I do have an emailable PDF, if you’re really desperate; contact info under “About the Author” link); the Telegraph article can be found online (see next link).

But, first, several of Sullivan’s blog post thoughts:

  • “When I saw this article in the Telegraph …, I rolled my eyes a bit and prepared myself for silliness. We’ve had so much of this sort of thing: the Real Mr. Darcy, the Real Pemberley, etc., and it’s becoming tiresome…”
  • “I think it’s rare for writers, especially writers of Jane Austen’s genius, to be so literal about their inspiration…. Writers get inspiration from all over—the littlest thing to the biggest— … used however we need them to fit the plot.”
  • “tiresome … when five thousand Internet listicle sites pick it up like Moses brought it down from the mountain, and all our well-meaning friends send us links saying, ‘DID YOU SEE THIS?'”

I invite you to read Sullivan’s post in its entirety, for she makes some excellent points about Austen and Mansfield Park.

[By the way, Cottesbrook – which you’ll see in the comments section, is ALSO related to the Smiths & Goslings – home of the Langham family, relations of Elizabeth Gosling’s husband Langham Christie.]

My concern with Clark’s theory is less about “inspiration” and more about the veracity and depth of his familial research. Entitled, “Is this the Real Mansfield Park?” the sub-header entices Country Life readers by asking: “‘Are there hedgerows in Northamptonshire?Robert Clark has found compelling evidence to identify the country house on which Jane Austen based her novel Mansfield Park and to look at it in a new light.” A smaller-font teaser between paragraphs then asks, “Did the political and family connections of Castle Ashby draw Jane Austen to immortalize it in Mansfield Park?

Anyone who has read Mansfield Park will guess why Austen wanted to know if she could write about Hedgerows in the course of the novel. Austen’s query to Cassandra (letter of 29 Jan 1813) was, “If you c:d discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of hedgerows, I sh:d be glad again.”

As I re-read Country Life, from their 2 September 2015 issue, these annoyances pop out:

  • Elizabeth Chute – this is more correctly applied to William Wiggett Chute’s wife. William Wiggett inherited The Vine after the deaths of brothers William and Thomas Chute, but only took possession of the Hampshire estate [there was also a Norfolk estate, as well] after the death of William’s widow ELIZA Chute. She may have been born an Elizabeth, but it is not the name she (or Claire Tomalin, in her Jane Austen biography, which the article cites) used.
  • Who the hell is “James Henry Austen-Leigh”? Typo or misprint is no excuse. The man’s name was James EDWARD Austen Leigh (and went by ‘Edward’). Austen scholars often abbreviate the Austen, and contract him to ‘JEAL’. So many writers seem unable to check their sources over James Austen and his son James Edward Austen (Leigh). [NB: Edward married my diarist Emma Smith]
  • The next section really is egregious: “Perhaps Austen-Leigh exaggerated [the intimacy of the Chutes and Percevals in his book on the Vine Hunt], as his wife was descended from another sister … and he wanted to affirm his kinship with the great, but the fact that he named two of his children — Spencer Austen and Edward Compton Austen — to commemorate the family relationships must lend weight to the suggestion….”

Emma had a brother Spencer, as well as cousin ‘Spencer Compton’. The two Compton siblings – Lord Compton and Lady Elizabeth Compton – were the ONLY first cousins the Smiths had. Clark’s concept of Edward Austen wishing to “affirm” kinship “with the great” might be altered if Clark had noted that Spencer Perceval had been William Chute’s fag at Harrow.

The Telegraph article by Hannah Furness brings other issues:

  • “Jane Austen’s fictional country house was based on the real-­life Castle Ashby, in Northamptonshire, the home of the family of Spencer Perceval.” [to me this sounds like Ashby was the Perceval seat; not so.]

Reactions of friends at the time of the Telegraph article, rather echoed the “letters to the editor”; they included:

  • “It’s a while since I read MP, but I got the impression that the house was quite contemporary, fairly recently built.  …. Castle Ashby is Elizabethan, and seems to me to be much grander than MP.
  • “Methinks that too many people are reading/trying to read too many things into not very much.”

My own response took the form of a (never published) Letter to the Editor:

Why Jane Austen should require “models” for the creation of characters or estates is a question few address; besides, it is fun to pose “what ifs” (“Sleuth’s trail to the heart and home of an Austen classic”, Sept 3).

I research the very persons Prof. Clark theorizes about: Eliza Chute’s family, into which James Edward Austen married on 16 December 1828. I agree with Prof. Richards (letters, Sept 11) that Castle Ashby and its Spencer Perceval connection seems too loose a thread for Austen to have woven its connotations into Mansfield Park. In the midst of re-reading Nelson’s Purse (Martyn Downer, 2004) as this story broke, I have an alternative suggestion from the same family: Swarland, owned by Alexander Davison. His involvement with Admiral Horatio Nelson; the family unit of Edmund and Fanny (Nelson’s father and estranged wife) against the mesmerizing newcomer; and a strong dose of Church, Navy, Portsmouth, and the West Indies all fall within Austen’s story.

Swarland was a neo-Palladian house, mid-eighteenth-century built, with substantial parkland – including a ha-ha and extensive walks á la Sotherton. It serves for house, grounds, and the extra-textural fare Clark seeks for the “cognoscenti reader”. Far north if left in situ (Northumberland), Swarland could have precipitated Jane Austen’s questions about hedgerows and Northamptonshire, if she prepared to “relocate” the action to a southerly county with a similar name.

See, even _I_ can play the game!

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Jane Austen BookBenches

October 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm (entertainment, jane austen, portraits and paintings, travel) (, , , )

Sitting with Jane” was a summertime (17 June-30 August) installation of artist-produced benches that created a 24-stop Jane Austen trail. Last month (15 September 2017) the benches were sold at auction, raising funds for The Ark Cancer Centre Charity.

WHERE will the Jane Austen Trail benches turn up next?!?

I wish I had found this project earlier! The “Trail” looks so fun…

If you’re an ‘app’-person, there’s an app for it: available (or was available…) on iTunes and Google Play. The rest of us can “follow” on an old-fashioned MAP.

Sitting with Jane logo

For those of us now having to let our eyes do the walking online, there ARE illustrations of the benches.

Dancing with Jane

This bench, entitled DANCING WITH JANE, by Michelle Heron, was situated outside the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.

As you see, the benches were “open books” in design, and the artists got to embellish them any way they wished. Michelle Heron was “inspired by regency dancing and the balls that Jane and characters in her novels attended, with a backdrop of a manuscript from her last fully completed novel, Persuasion.”

JANE AND HER FORGOTTEN PEERS, by Amy Goodman, was situated near Winchester Cathedral – where _I_ have enjoyed several “dining with Jane Austen” meals (though not on the Jane Austen bench, of course). Caroline Fairbairne painted TWO benches, one located in Chawton (entitled CHAWTON WOODWALK); while the other graced the area of Steventon Church (DO YOU DANCE, MR. DARCY?).

Oakley Hall (home of the Bramstons in Jane Austen’s time) gave people the opportunity of WAITING FOR MR. DARCY (by Traci Moss). But I must admit to rather liking the refreshing joke behind Mik Richardson‘s ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY? at Worting House.

Are you sitting comfortablyPlease don’t sit on my book!

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Fashion: the R. Crompton Rhodes collection

October 18, 2017 at 10:10 am (fashion, history) (, )

1803 fashion plate

A “digital” collection based on the fashion plates once collected by Raymond Crompton Rhodes, and now at the Library of Birmingham.

The lady pictured above is from 1803 – she is believed to have been published in the Lady’s Monthly Museum for September 1803. So there are a nice variety of periodicals, including such popular titles as La Belle Assemblée, The Lady’s Magazine, Bell’s Court Magazine.

Included in the collection:

  • Macaroni prints, 1773-1777
  • Female Fashion, 1803-1901
  • Male Fashion, 1840-1870
  • Children’s Fashions, 1829-1893
  • Leisure wear, 1807-1891
  • a short biography of Crompton Rhodes

 

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Jane Austen in California

October 15, 2017 at 2:25 pm (jasna, travel) (, , , )

I returned Monday morning from a week in California – including the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The theme was

“Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality”. The resort hotel chosen, the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach proved a FANTASTIC find. Just walking from the conference building to my room, the eye was greeted at every glance, every turn with fountains, “birds of paradise” in flower, places to sit and enjoy a “fire”. If there was a downside, it was the “sound quality” coming from the speakers especially in the larger rooms. Even our guest, Whit Stillman, commented (more than once).

In reviewing my notes, I have a feeling that because so many attendees were “first-timers” they would disagree with what I’m about to say: too many sessions were “too basic”. I’ll mention two that I attended because I thought they would be “useful”.

“Reading Jane Austen through the Lens of the Law” was a two-part, two-speaker session. The first speaker talked a lot, but didn’t have much to say that was ‘new’ or ‘unknown’. The second speaker was better, but “the historical” context was missing. And neither managed to actually answer someone’s question of “What was a Jointure?”

The other disappointment was the session entitled “Jane Austen’s Earthly Sendoff to Paradise”. Right out of the gate came information that I knew to be a mistake: People were NOT buried within two to three days of death. A review of primary materials for the correct “historical” context would have nipped this deadly mistake in the bud.

One thing I did _learn_ was to think of Tumblr (a platform I am not on) as a 21st Century “Commonplace Book”. THAT _WAS_ exciting to think about! I had been looking at Commonplace Books on eBay…. So it was rather timely as being already on my mind.

I spent a day in San Francisco, since I had never been to California before. It was the “Autumn Moon Festival” in Chinatown:

I can’t say that I “left my heart in San Francisco”…. But the Blue Angels and Snowbirds certainly did:

It was “Fleet Week 2017” – and somebody was up there, practicing.

 

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