Two new biographies

January 22, 2020 at 4:18 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, Uncategorized) (, , , )

I am always thrilled to find biographies that concentrate on women. These two (one from mid-2019 and one just released – in Britain – January 2020) center on four sisters, in one case, and, in the other case, five women writers between the wars who lived in Mecklenburgh Square (Bloomsbury, London).

Noble Savages

Sarah Watling’s Noble Savages: The Olivier Sisters – Four Lives in Seven Fragments grabbed my attention from page one: The opening introduction describes a 1962 meeting between Noel Oliver (the youngest sister) and an intent Rupert Brooke biographer, Christopher Hassell. What did Hassell hanker after? Noel Olivier’s letters from Brooke, which, in nearly fifty years, she had not offered up to ANY writer on Brooke.

They were private, and kept until after Noel Olivier’s death; subsequent publication (in 1991) was by a grand-daughter.

I can see BOTH sides…

Noel’s property was Noel’s property; why should she have to yield it up to anyone, especially knowing it would be impossible to refuse publication once the letters got into Hassell’s hands.

And yet, to a researcher, to _know_ that something MORE exists, and to have no access to even a glimpse of it, is an exquisite torment.

It was a situation even James Edward Austen Leigh went through, when letters his aunt Cassandra Austen had saved (written to her by her sister Jane Austen – and given to a niece), could no longer be located. And no one else was offering up their Jane Austen memorabilia, beyond his own two sisters (Anna Lefroy and Caroline Austen). Edward’s Memoir of Jane Austen was published without accessing at least two batches of letters (one of which ceased to exist about this time); he died before his cousin’s son published Jane Austen’s Letters.

Square Haunting

Francesca Wade’s biography Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London between the Wars features one of my all-time favorite authors: Dorothy L. Sayers. The five women sharing Mecklenburgh Square as an address (not necessarily at the same time) include poet H.D.; Jane Harrison; Eileen Power; and Virginia Woolf. The book opens with the 1940 bombing of the area. As someone who works with diaries, it was an absolute *thrill* to read that Woolf dug out her diaries (evidently uninjured) from the rubble of her apartment.

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Hilary Davidson’s Dress in the Age of Austen

October 30, 2019 at 8:50 pm (books, fashion, history, jane austen, jasna, research) (, , , , )

In yesterday’s mail was a very welcome copy of Hilary Davidson’s Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. Periodically, I search for new and upcoming releases of books, including about Austen, about England, about history. I remember the cover,

Davidson_Dress

Everyone will recognize “Mrs. Q.”

But had I paid it much attention? I hate to say, ‘No.’ But when it arrived in the mail (unexpectedly!) the surprise was as pleasant as the receipt. A great deal of text; photographs of actual garments, political cartoons, and period portraits. The table of contents spoke to me as one who researches young ladies of the same period, who certainly exhibited this same variety of fashion personae:

  • Self
  • Home
  • Village
  • Country
  • City
  • Nation
  • World

When I turned to the title page and saw Yale University Press my good impression was complete.

Who says that Mail only brings BILLS?!?

A full review in the near future.

In the meantime, Yale has a brief (16 seconds) YouTube film, showing the interior of the book. Elyse Martin has written a lengthy review on Historians.org called “Fashion Forward.” A brief review from Publishers Weekly. See also Hilary Davidson’s website. A nicely-lengthy preview is available on Books.Google.

Davidson has written on Jane Austen’s Pelisse and its construction and replication. It was an important re-read for me when writing about Cassandra and Jane Austen for the recent JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, Virginia. The pelisse illustrates a tall, thin woman – and my Emma, soon after her marriage to James Edward Austen, described Cassandra, whom she had recently met in person. But it wasn’t until distilling the words of Anna Lefroy (Edward’s elder half-sister) that it dawned: Anna recalled a game she played, in which she guessed “which aunt” belonged to “which bonnet.” Between Anna’s game and Emma’s description, the conclusion becomes that the same silhouette must describe Cassandra Austen as well as her sister Jane Austen.

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Dido Belle

September 22, 2019 at 11:06 am (books, diaries, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

Dido Belle

Click on the picture to see the Wikipedia entry on the painting and its two sitters, Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (Finch-Hatton).

Although aired in 2018, I just watched last night the FAKE or FORTUNE? episode that identified the portrait’s painter (once thought to be Zoffany) as David Martin. The Mansfield archives even has a ledger, with payment to him – though, of course, NO mention of the work, just his name.

It was while looking at the close-up (above) that I was struck with the thought: Dido Belle must, in many ways, gives clues to the appearance of the last governess of the Smiths, Miss Ashley. There were two west Indian sisters, Sarah and Eliza Ashley. Interestingly, there are book chapters of the grandmother of these girls, known as The Queen of Demerara.

One book is Empowering Women (by Candlin and Pybus); very well-written and quite informative. I came across it because of the chapters on Dorothy Thomas and Mrs. Sala, a performer and music teacher, who, when in London, Emma writes about in her diaries.

The Smith family in general have left a fair amount of letters and diaries.

It is quite obvious that the Smith family’s governess Miss Ashley is Eliza Ann Ashley (cousin George Augustus Sala names her Elise – I have located one letter; the signature almost looks Elize). Her sister, when named, is Miss S. Ashley or in later years just “Sarah”. Her full name being Sarah Edmonstone Ashley. The family, (seemingly anyway), make it easy to differentiate the sisters.

Emma Smith was actually older (by about two years) than Miss Ashley.

(Emma was the third child, of nine; born in 1801.)

Miss Ashley came to the Smiths in May 1824. It is *exciting* to wonder if she traveled from Demerara in company with Dorothy Thomas, her grandmother. How she came to be employed by the Smiths, I do not know. Mrs. Smith (Augusta Smith, senior; the widowed Mrs. Charles Smith of Suttons and 6 Portland Place) has left some diaries, but I’ve not (yet) tracked down anything for 1824.

That these sisters are related to Sala I have no doubt. There is enough in the diaries that reference Mrs. Sala, Mr. Sala’s fatal illness, an unnamed aunt’s death, etc. to confirm they are the women George Augustus Sala wrote about.

What I do not know is whose children they were; whether there were more siblings; and how they were related to Sala – he calls them cousins, which leads me to presume, like Mrs. Sala, they were daughters of a daughter of Dorothy Thomas. But which daughter (and from which relationship)?

Miss Ashley’s tenure with the Smiths was twofold.

She ceased working for the Smiths when the youngest daughter, Maria, “aged out” of needing a governess (late 1830s). There is enough in the letters to put her in the employ of the Duchess-Countess of Sutherland. But by the 1840s she is back. She appears in the diaries of Mary Gosling (Lady Smith), giving music and drawing lessons. After Mary’s death in 1842, Miss Ashley was clearly hired by Mrs. Smith to be the governess with her two now-orphaned granddaughters (children of Sir Charles and Lady Smith). The names of Miss Ashley or her sister occasionally appear in letters over the next three decades, including news of Miss Ashley’s death (1874).

I’ve found Eliza Ann in two census reports. I’ve also located a SILHOUETTE clearly identified as ‘Miss Ashley.’ Emma’s eldest sister, Augusta Smith junior, was well-known for her “heads”; she probably created this group of family silhouettes.

As you might imagine, governesses in general are an important topic to pursue when looking at the history of a wealthy London-based family in the 19th century; it is intriguing, though, to contemplate not only their love for Miss Ashley, but also her influence upon the family, coming from a background so far removed from their own.

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Jane Austen @ LA Review of Books

May 7, 2019 at 3:29 pm (books, history, jane austen, jasna, news) (, , )

Another _very interesting_ piece of writing by Janine Barchas (author, Matters of Fact in Jane Austen [2013]; and The Lost Books of Jane Austen [Oct 2019]), who looks at “Marie Kondo’s Contributions to the Reception History of Jane Austen” in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

As an avid purchaser of used books, I certainly have my share of those identified with former owner names. And there are those with inscriptions. You know the type of inscription I mean, “With love, from Grandma, Christmas 1922,” is one image used in the article, attached to a fine looking, highly colorful, embossed cover for Sense and Sensibility.

books_north country

Now, such information is being culled for the “reception history” of Jane Austen’s novels.

This section of Janine’s article REALLY fired my imagination:

“In recent years, … hard-lived survivors of old reprints have surfaced among the flotsam and jetsam of eBay offerings, charity shops, and second-hand bookstores. While these unwanted 19th-century books apparently failed to spark joy for some, for me they have opened new avenues of research into Austen’s early readers.

This is because some ownership signatures and gift inscriptions left behind in these copies can be traced. Resources such as Google and Ancestry.com have lowered the costs of provenance research so that bare names and dates can be more easily wrapped in biographical context. As a result, mundane copies can supplement the highbrow evidence by which scholars have traditionally tracked reception —”

Having so few books that I would actually resell, I had to laugh and then “oooh” over the true realization that, “The decluttering craze is democratizing reception history.” (I hate to add, the deaths of householders must also contribute to the resale of items: when relatives and friends just don’t know what to do with it all; and certainly they feel no sentiment towards what Grandma gave at Xmas in 1922…)”

Using census data, some of the ghost-readers can be fleshed out – including geographic information and sometimes even knowledge of their employment.  As one who _never_ claims her books half so fully as those mentioned in the article, the heartwarming (and even heartbreaking) tales culled from these books are AMAZING. I’m really looking forward, then, to Janine Barchas’ Plenary presentation at the JASNA – Jane Austen Society of North America – Annual General Meeting (AGM), being held this October (2019) at Colonial Williamsburg. Janine will speak on such “refound” volumes, concentrating on Northanger Abbey – the focus of the AGM, which celebrates the novel’s 200th anniversary of publication. Not attending the JASNA AGM? Look for the publication that month of The Lost Books of Jane Austen. “The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes.”

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George Perceval at Trafalgar

April 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm (books, history, people) (, , , )

Every once in a while something published turns out to be of use. Lord and Lady Arden are related to the Comptons of Castle Ashby (Emma Smith’s Uncle and Aunt Northampton). I’ve come across a few letters by the Arden’s children, but one is always hopeful that maybe letters to the children are still in existence. One must get _creative_ when searching – different names, sometimes different spellings. Who knows what I searched for when this little booklet turned up. The Banstead Boy at Trafalgar: George Perceval’s Letters to his Parents Lord and Lady Arden, 1805 to 1815.

Banstead_Perceval

This has so much going for it! It is a group of letters (the originals at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich); it is related to people related to my research; AND it deals with a young man in the Royal Navy, including his earliest days, when young George Perceval was first being sent aboard the ship Orion in 1805. Born in 1794, he was, at the time, about eleven years old.

It’s a short (64 pages) but well-produced booklet. The original purchase of the letters in 2005 evidently made quite the press sensation. In looking up that original sale, I am _not_ surprised: the lot at Sotheby’s sold for £33,600 (estimated: £20,000 to £30,000). W-O-W! You also get to SEE a few samples of the letters. The booklet, however, is your go-to source for reading about a young boys life in the Royal Navy, 1805 to 1815. Available through the Banstead History Research Group (BHRG). So wonderful that they pursued the publication of these letters! Banstead being the location of the Perceval estate, Nork.

 

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London Silk: Garthwaite & Rothstein

March 17, 2019 at 11:38 am (books, fashion, history, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

I am just starting to read Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk. This is the fascinating “entwined” story of a silk designer, a Spitalfields silk weaver, a Philadelphia woman, and the artist hired to paint her portrait.

Woman in Silk

Anishanslin makes mention of the contributions by Natalie Rothstein to the information we have about the eighteenth-century English designer of this silk’s pattern – Anna Maria Garthwaite. Rothstein is a very familiar name, for she gave us A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fashion.

Barbara Johnson

[click the photo below for more on the book A Lady of Fashion; and see also my post “Fashion News, Regency Style“]

It is with sadness that I read of Natalie Rothstein’s death in 2010. Her obituary, in The Guardian, makes for interesting reading – and mentions the title of her main work on Garthwaite: Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1990). Rothstein was quite prolific, publishing much about the collection she knew best (i.e., the V & A). This lengthy obituary features an equally lengthy bibliography.

johnson3

It was finding online information (and images!) of Garthwaite’s designs that made me want to share with you. Especially, this beautifully presented Waistcoat (1747) from the Met Museum; details and overview images. A lengthy blog post on the Courtauld Institute of Art‘s website is well worth a read. All this history of the Spitalfields weaving industry might also inspire you to visit Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street. I think I blogged about it long before my own visit, so entranced was I by the “story” of and behind the “museum”. (But I wasn’t prepared for the locked front door that had to be knocked on and answered!)

The thrill is also over the Victoria and Albert sharing images of Garthwaite’s designs. Although I didn’t look at them all, 44 pages came up [some _are_ tagged ‘unknown’ artist; most are Garthwaite’s designs] when I searched for ‘Garthwaite’!

There’s even a Pinterest page dedicated to her designs and Garthwaite has her own Wikipedia page.

Some of the less intricate designs of flowering tendrils remind me of the Botanicals painted by the women in the Smith family (two generations, including the future Emma Austen, my diarist) [see the page Artwork Done By], which I have long thought would make for beautiful fabrics. As a “companion” piece, if the Botanicals at the Royal Horticultural Society interest you, you might dip into “Further Thoughts on Four Sisters” to acquaint yourself with the four sisters of Earl Stoke Park – Emma’s mother and three aunts, who, with Miss Margaret Meen, their teacher in the technique, is represented in the RHS collection.

***

Additional reading:

A Dress of Spitalfields Silk” – lengthy essay and some splendid photographs of an actual garment

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New Website for Mary Hardy Diaries

February 28, 2019 at 9:24 am (books, diaries, history, news) (, , , , )

An email from Margaret Bird, who is in the midst of finishing the Companion volumes to her 4-volume edition of Mary Hardy Diaries, 1773-1809 [Burnham Press, UK], announced a new website has launched!

mary-hardyvol. 1 of Mary Hardy’s diaries

You can “preview” the four companion volumes Mary Hardy and her World, 1773-1809:

  • volume 1 A Working Family “will appeal to everyone interested in the home lives of the farming and commercial middle class in the eighteenth century.”
  • volume 2 Barley, Beer and the Working Year “analyses the way all the aspects of a family business hinged on one another. It goes to the heart of the industry in which the Hardys were engaged: farming, malting, brewing, sales to public houses, and the neglected subject of distribution.”
  • volume 3 Spiritual and Social Forces “chronicles and analyses a series of exciting developments in religion in an age often regarded as spiritually somnolent… Religion was increasingly no longer ‘the cement of society’…. Fractures were opening up, fast.”
  • volume 4 Under Sail and Under Arms “It is unusual to read in a woman’s diary allusions to such subjects as building a navigation (a canalized river), and to trade on the rivers and at sea. This volume also enters the world of politics…. Mary Hardy shows her absorption in the electoral process as a bystander.”

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Black Out @ Smithsonian

February 16, 2019 at 12:21 pm (books, entertainment, history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

There’s still time, if you act fast, to catch the closing weeks (until 10 March 2019) of BLACK OUT: SILHOUETTES NOW AND THEN, at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.).

Having opened in May 2018, there has been a fair amount of press:

  • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian: Press Release
  • Washington Post: “Before Photography the silhouette helped leave an impression” (Philip Kennicott)
  • Hyperallergic: “An Outline of over 200 Years of Silhouettes” (Claire Voon) [great photos of the installation]
  • “Five Questions” with Curator Asma Naeem
  • Quarizy: “An Enslaved Woman’s Candlelit Shadow” {Portrait of Flora] (Corinne Purtill)
  • Frieze: “Out of the Shadows: A Contrasting History Lesson in Black and White (Evan Moffitt)

Also available: the book BLACK OUT: Silhouettes Then and Now, through the museum store, which helps support the National Portrait Gallery, as well as such exhibitions.

Black Out

ONE resultant article is a fascinating look at Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant of Weybridge, Vermont! Their portrait images are from the Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, in Middlebury. [The Sheldon Museum reopens on 2 April 2019.]

Dating from c1805-1815, the engaging pair of silhouettes, “entwined in braided human hair,” lift from the shadows a story of this same-sex couple. A quote from William Cullen Bryant (Charity’s nephew), in 1841, says: “If I were permitted to draw aside the veil of private life….” The Drake-Bryant silhouettes alone have lifted that veil (see below). Being placed on display, especially in such a prominent exhibition, “allow[s] these kinds of stories to be told” (to quote the curator in Roger Caitlin’s article for Smithsonian.com).

The pair of women have also made the local Vermont news:

  • The newspaper Addison County Independent‘s story on Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant travelling down from Middlebury, Vermont to Washington D.C.
  • Seven Days picked up the story, and through that we learn of Bryant’s death in 1851; and that the Sheldon Museum also has “a wealth of archival materials,” donated by Drake’s family. These include “letters, diaries, poems and other ephemera.” Oooohhh…..

Fascinating to read that University of Victoria (BC, Canada) historian Rachel Hope Cleves, who researched the Sheldon’s collection of Drake materials “and basically made this case that these women were a lesbian couple living together.” Cleves published (in 2014) Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America.

Charity & Sylvia

The cover will whet your appetite to see the original silhouettes!! And the content, the story of Charity and Sylvia, will make you want to buy the book – which is available through the Henry Sheldon Museum as well as your usual book places.

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Mary Somerville: Mathematician, Scientist, Writer

January 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm (books, history, people, research) (, , )

When I wrote a week ago, on my companion blog Georgian Gems, Regency Reads, & Victorian Voices (dedicated to letters and diaries) about Mary Somerville, it was with the idea of introducing her very useful “Personal Recollections, which I am reading and much enjoying.

Mrs. Somerville turns up in the letters (and diaries) of the Smith family, in the period after her husband’s employment began as physician at the Chelsea Hospital.

mary somerville

Two days ago I received a tiny little letter, written in 1827 by Augusta Smith (Emma’s eldest sister); and was working today to figure out who some of those mentioned in it were. A “Mr. Dukinfield” turns up, in a sentence that makes it probable that he had been a guest — as had the Smiths — at the Shaw Lefevre estate Heckfield Place. I wasn’t sure of his last name, and searched other letters – thereby making final corrections to some prior guesses, in two letters from 1833.

ONE letter made me sit up and take notice: Again written by Augusta Smith, it mentioned Dr. Somerville and the publication of his wife’s book.

In fact, the John Murray edition of Mrs. Somerville’s Personal Recollections features a list of her publications, including THE MECHANISM OF THE HEAVENS (1831).

It must be this that the letter references:

Mr. Blackwood (who had overnighted) “saw Dr Somerville not long ago in town – his wife & family are in Paris – his head is quite turned by the brilliant success of Mrs S:s book  – He was invited down to the Universities to receive thanks for it & assist at fêtes given for her – letters from all countries have poured in to compliment & thank her. She is received with the greatest distinction at the French court…”

This is an intriguing remark: for Augusta Smith (Augusta Wilder as she was after her marriage in 1829), like Mrs. Somerville, had a very inquiring mind. The two must have had a great deal of conversation when together.

If only Mary Somerville ever mentioned any of the Smith family! That would be fabulous information to find, though what seems to exist is not her daily, chatty correspondence. Still, this goes to show that even the shortest paragraph gains meaning once the meaning behind it is deciphered.

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Many meanings of Womanhood (Jane Austen)

December 9, 2018 at 9:44 am (books, jasna) (, )

A new book, released at the beginning of December (2018) is Jane Austen’s Women: An Introduction, by Kathleen Anderson.

Anderson_Jane Austens Women

Over the years, as a member of JASNA, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting and listening to Kathleen’s incisive talks and reading her publications. A production of SUNY Press, there’s a format for everyone: hardcover, paperback, ebook. You can get a taste of it content from the following:

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