Why are we still reading Jane Austen

December 28, 2017 at 2:23 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

While looking up a few sites for the post “Walter Scott & the Shetland Islands,” I came across this EXCEPTIONALLY interesting post from H.J. Jackson at Yale Books Unbound. It is especially apropos to read it as 2017 winds to a close – 200 years after the death of Jane Austen, in 1817, and it ties in oh-so-well with the most recent JASNA AGM (Annual General Meeting, of the Jane Austen Society of North America). Our 2017 conference centered around “Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality.” (The conference took place at the heavenly Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, California.)

Jackson’s entire title is “Why Are We Still Reading Jane Austen (But not Mary Brunton)?” There must not have been room enough to include in the title “and hardly any Walter Scott.” For his early popularity pops up in the article as well.

It is Jackson’s look at two successful writers – both Scottish, as it happens – and comparing the current cool-burning flame that exists for both Brunton and Scott with the heat of Jane Austen’s fame that makes the article a damned good read.

Brunton lived nearly the same span of years as Jane Austen:

  • Jane Austen, December 1775-July 1817
  • Mary Brunton, November 1778-December 1818
  • Walter Scott, August 1771-September 1832

Jackson also comments about Austen on film; Brunton never made it to the screen and the heyday of films based on Scott novels were the heyday of Hollywood, though TV has offered a surprising number of Scott “mini-series”. I won’t count Lucia di Lammermoor et al: all those operas are too well-known!

Ivanhoe

But we all suspect that Austen mania began with Colin Firth’s Darcy – even Robert Taylor didn’t generate that kind of fervor! Unlike some readers Jackson mentions, I never came across Austen in school. DECADES later, the second I (re-)heard the theme music for the 1980s BBC production (with Rintoul, Garvey, and a great script), I knew: this was the prompt for my own purchase of an omnibus edition of Austen. So I can’t blame others for following suit, a decade later; but I can say “ENOUGH already!” to the never ending Darcy-mania. When women line up in droves to see Firth’s vacant white linen shirt, there’s a whole different fandom than for Austen and her works.

So _I_ hope, as the next hundred years since the publication of Austen novels has already gotten underway, that there will remain a serious core to the study of Austen, her life and her works. I really fear for the over-academic as well as deplore the overly-copied. It’s rather like A Christmas Carol – “done” so many times that (I personally) can’t even stand to hear the title.

But I won’t get off on a Darcy tangent… Jackson doesn’t even go there.

Jackson’s query, “What happened to Brunton — the gradual fading and extinction of her  name — could easily have happened to Austen,” is what makes the article so exciting. “Austen rapidly accumulated most of the tributes that the nineteenth century had paid to Scott (translations, adaptations, illustrations, pilgrimages) and garnered others unimagined by the Victorians, such as reenactments, academic conferences, the heritage industry, websites, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” [no comment on this last entry…]

[NB: the two things I can say against Jackson is that she forgets part of James Edward Austen Leigh’s name, when discussing A Memoir of Jane Austen, and the error of her claim that he – born in 1798 – “had never known her well.” To have known Jane Austen versus to remember stories of her fifty and sixty years later are vastly different “problems”. Even his own daughter depended on diaries and letters when writing about his life decades after his death. Most of Austen’s letters – those later published by Brabourne – were not made available to Austen Leigh.]

Jackson’s article is a short Christmas and New Year’s gift to Austen’s readership – one which offers much food for thought during these cold, dark days here in New England and elsewhere in the world.

cushion_austen

a Jane Austen pillow

 

Brunton, I think, gained much by having her portrait and correspondence published – after her death, along with Emmeline, her last novel. Such “publication” (in Brunton’s case, done by her widower) seemed feared within the Austen family (although Cassandra outlived her sister by several decades).

As someone culling all the Smith & Gosling family diaries and letters that I can find, to constantly hear that Cassandra is blamed for the lack of Jane Austen letters available to posterity is difficult to bear. Where, I ask, are Cassandra’s letters!?! I dearly wish we had those. But more importantly: Cassandra would NOT have been Jane Austen’s only correspondent. So, many others could have “kept” Jane Austen’s letters…. If “posterity” wishes to blame someone, wag a finger a little harder at the niece who destroyed her father’s property, rather than at the sister to whom letters were personally addressed. They were hers, to do with as she pleased.

But I won’t go off on a long “burn correspondence vs. keep correspondence” tangent either. We all must appreciate what we have, and be thankful for the insights others give us when sharing and discussing their thoughts, their ideas.

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Walter Scott & the Shetland Islands

December 26, 2017 at 11:46 am (jane austen, places, travel) (, , , )

Over the holiday weekend I got an email from a friend who plans a future trip to the Shetland Islands! Oooohh…..

Islands have a lure for me – though I cannot say I have EVER visited any I’ve pointed to on a map. The Isles of Scilly remain merely read about. The Channel Islands, because they are on U.K. time, proved impossible to visit as a day trip from Paris, thanks to the ferry schedule. In Scotland, I did get to the Highlands, but never to any of the Islands.

In the back of my brain, however, I dug up the memory of once having ordered yarn (yes, I used to knit) from the tippy-top of Shetland – from Unst, if I recall correctly. I still have the sweater – a thin wool “jumper,” dark green, made to go with a Macdonald tartan skirt.

Oh, the memories! I’m looking at the Jamieson & Smith website. I remember when I used to look at books on historical knitting – and thought about building myself a JUMPER BOARD. If you’re a knitter, and don’t know what that is, click the link. The cost is 85 pounds (though not sure about the shipping…). GROAN: “currently unavailable.” (Ditto for the glove boards.)

IMAGINE: Mail order, in the days before the internet! I can’t be a 100% sure of the company or which island my goods came from, but I’m in the right neighborhood. I bet somewhere around the house is the original packing slip. I remember some fabric, from Scotland, and even Wales, too.

Those were GOOD days. I used to be so enthusiastic about sewing; and I actually designed my own knitwear. Not my own design, but one of my handiwork is this pair of socks:

stocking_clock

The photo was meant to show the “clock” that’s worked around the ankle, although this pattern is Austrian, and features a cable from ankle to knee.

So I’ve had an interest in Shetland patterns, and historical knits in general (I have a tidy little library of books on that subject). AND now I’ve a Highland Lady of my own – Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane – whom I have been writing about. Margaret married Emma Smith’s (Emma Austen Leigh’s) cousin, Lord Compton. On the death of his father (May 1828), she became the 2nd Marchioness of Northampton.

But Margaret was a Highland Bluestocking.

Torloisk, the Isle of Mull home she shared with her mother and two sisters, is an area I’ve recently looked at on google maps. So it wasn’t hard to look up the likes of Staffa, which Lord Compton visited in 1813 – and I’m beginning to think the Clephane ladies showed him around this island known for its basalt columns.

And not far off from there (on a map): the Shetlands – and that is how I discovered the footprints of Sir Walter Scott!

Margaret Clephane knew Walter Scott (he was her godfather, and her guardian) – and due to her intended marriage to Lord Compton (in 1815) he dropped by the Smith residence at No. 6 Portland Place and chatted an hour with Emma and Fanny Smith! (Mamma was not at home…)

Compton_Margaret and Marianne_Harriet Cheney

Margaret & Marianne (her eldest daughter)

Walter Scott is behind the naming of JARLSHOF, a name he invented for his novel The Pirate (1822). At the southern tip of the Sheltland Islands, Jarlshof is an important archeological site.

Ian Mitchell has written about Scott’s adventures in the Shetlands; Scott visited these northern islands in 1814 – the year he published WAVERLEY, the novel Jane Austen was loath to like, though she “feared she must” like it. [aside: read David Groves, “Jane Austen in Scotland” in JASNA’s 1985 journal Persuasions.] Until that publication, Scott was known for his poetry – and Jane Austen, with three novels to her credit, teased her niece that Scott should have left the crowded field of novel-writing alone! Indeed, his works became fiercely beloved in his lifetime. Published anonymously, it’s rather surprising that Austen had already heard who the author of Waverley was; even Margaret Clephane was only guessing when she wrote to Scott about Waverley – teasing about how much she could have helped the “unknown” author with all things Scots Gaelic (a language Margaret spoke as well as English). She is the reason for a LOT of the Highland scholarship behind Scott’s historical novels. It’s all there, in her letters to him (his replies to her, of course, make up letters in the published Scott Correspondence).

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A Jane Austen Birthday Present

December 16, 2017 at 11:04 am (books, entertainment, jane austen, jasna, news) (, , )

Every December, on Jane Austen’s Birthday (December 16th), JASNA – the Jane Austen Society of North America, celebrates by publishing their digital periodical, Persuasions On-Line. This a free to view periodical of scholarship centering on Austen, her novels, her life, her family.

I’m really thrilled to see an article on the “The Sitting with Jane Art Trail, Celebrating Jane Austen, Basingstoke, and Literary Tourism,” by Misty Krueger. Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will recall a brief post I called “Jane Austen BookBenches“.

Dancing with Jane

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra AustenOther articles, some culled from the recent AGM (Annual General Meeting) in Huntington Beach, California, that caught my eye include:

  • “Persuasion: Why the Revised Ending Works so Well,” by Paul Wray
  • “‘My Fanny’ and ‘A Heroine Whom No One but Myself Will Much Like’: Jane Austen and Her Heroines in the Chawton Novels,” by Gillian Dooley
  • “‘I Have Unpacked the Gloves’: Accessories and the Austen Sisters,” by Sara Tavela
  • “Jane Austen’s Early Death in the Context of Austen Family Mortality,” by Christopher O’Brien
  • “The Immortality of Sense and Sensibility: Margaret’s Tree House, Edward’s Handkerchief, Marianne’s Rescue,” by Susan Allen Ford

There’s even a “Conversation with Whit Stillman,” who joined us at Huntington Beach for an evening that included discussion of his film Love & Friendship (based on Austen’s “Lady Susan”), which then played for the assembled audience.

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Portrait: Which Mrs. Gosling?

December 2, 2017 at 12:33 pm (people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

Last year I was contacted by someone with a portrait purporting to be “Mrs. Gosling” painted (in oils) by Margaret Carpenter. The idea was that it could be a portrait of my diarist, Mary Gosling. But, as she was “born” a Gosling, I discounted that idea straightaway.

That left the possibility that she represented a spouse. The probability of “Mrs. Gosling” being SOMEHOW related hung on the idea that she had come to South Africa through Houghton family connections: Elizabeth Houghton (born 1739 or 1743; died June 1811) was William Gosling’s mother, wife of Robert Gosling and sister-in-law of Sir Francis Gosling.

Mrs Gosling_Carpenter

As you can see from the auction “ad” from 2006, the auction house placed the painter “in the circle of” Margaret Carpenter. There is no denying, however, that Mrs. Carpenter painted many members of the Smith & Gosling family – including Emma Austen, James Edward Austen, even Augusta Wilder and Spencer Smith.

I have never seen the “indistinct signature and date” that is supposed to be in the right lower corner. But I have seen the labels on the rear – which, of course, may not be contemporary with the painting.

One label queries a date – 1835? 1855? When I asked Hope Greenberg of the University of Vermont (and a fellow member of JASNA Vermont), she put the dress of the sitter to around 1840. The Gosling ladies would have been on the cusp of fashion; never a decade behind.

LOOK at all the bits and pieces that are up in the air: painter; sitter; date of the painting. Plus it made its way from England to South Africa. On the plus side that it was connected (at least anecdotally) to the Houghton family.

Also on the plus side, that it seems to have an “exhibition” (?) label, designating the painter as at an address truly associated with Margaret Carpenter (also known as Mrs. William Carpenter):

Mrs W:m Carpenter
3, Nottingham Gate
York Gate, Regent’s Park

Exhibition catalogues or Mrs. Carpenter’s own catalogue of sitters (a copy at London’s National Portrait Gallery exists) could help; at present, I have no access.

The sitter is on the younger side – so the Hon. Mrs. Gosling (née the Hon. Charlotte de Grey), William’s widow who died in October 1839, should be discounted.

So the next place to turn is the dress of the woman – who is very fashionably dressed, indeed! The hairstyle, and the jewelry, are also of interest.

It’s the long chain, VERY prominent, that made me wonder: Is it Georgina Vere Gosling? She was Mary’s sister-in-law, the only sister-in-law of the family; only Robert Gosling, the second son, ever married – William Ellis Gosling died young, unmarried; Bennett Gosling and half brother Thomas George Gosling lived longer lives, but never married either.

There is a photograph from 1865 of Georgina Vere Gosling, which I’ve seen elsewhere than online, in which she is wearing just such a chain, though it is not quite so “displayed” around the body, as on the portrait.

But Georgina (born Georgina Sullivan) was born in 1804 – and that is where another label comes into play: it seemingly claims the sitter to have been born in 1810. For the label which (in another hand) claims:

Signed Right/Hand lower/Corner.
By/Margaret/Carpenter/1835? 1855?

— each two line written on either “end” — states, in a large, beautiful, and prominent hand, the obvious intent of the label:

Mrs. Gosling
1810 —  

If we go with the birth date of 1810, that leaves out several wives of the Gosling cousins, for instance Richard Gosling married Maria Elizabeth Gregg in 1820; his wife would not have been a 10-year-old.

But the date does pose an interesting possibility: Born in 1809 was the youngest Gosling sibling, Charlotte Gosling. As Cassandra Austen once wrote that she was taking “brevet rank” — indicating that she now chose to be addressed as “Mrs. Austen” in the place of “Miss Austen,” due to her age, it’s possible that this “Mrs. Gosling” was in fact an unmarried woman, who thought herself past the age of being a “Miss”.

If she was exhibited, her title was merely “Portrait of a Lady” (again, according to the rear label). That the family did lend their private portraits to public exhibitions, at the behest of an artist, IS borne out by one letter (from 1830), in which Mary writes: “I can only sanction its being exhibited on one condition, that Mrs Carpenter should put it into another frame, as I am sure it would get knocked about, and that my Sister would not like it to be exposed to the risk.

To anyone with further thoughts or information, the comment box awaits!

 

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