Small Victory

March 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm (history, jane austen, postal history, research) (, , , , )

Over the weekend I spent some time with the Smith & Gosling letters. Nearing 4000 pages of typescript, ranging from the 1760s into the 1940s.

I have more to add – some portions of information about the VYSE family. George Howard Vyse married — after a very long courtship — Lizzy Seymour, sister to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton and the Rev. Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour of Northchurch and Gloucester.

Vyse’s father, Colonel Vyse, literally stood in the way of the match. An intense dislike, of the Seymour family, of Lizzy. It is heartbreaking to read that GHV (as Richard always referred to the young man as, shortening a long name into three initials) was spotted by Mamma (Mrs. Smith, Emma’s mother), wistfully looking up to the windows, hoping to spot his young lady a brief second, while on military parade as part of Queen Victoria’s Coronation!

Mixed within these letters was one I suspected did NOT belong in the year 1838. DATED “August 12” from Mapledurham (the family’s rented estate in Hertfordshire), it is missing its last page or perhaps pages. These are small sheets of paper, and typically there were up to 8 pages (2 sheets folded in half; each creating 4 pages) of text. As well, these small sheets probably had utilized an envelope — and the end and signature could have ended up inside the envelope. I’ve come across one or two envelopes at this archive, hermetically sealed between two sheets of mylar, that were not pulled open before being sealed inside, yet the dark writing clearly showed thru the paper! Groan…

The letter – half letter – had ended up in a folder marked “Unidentified”. That folder was very *full* when I saw it in summer 2015. Did I miss a second sheet, or a single sheet? Are there envelopes, addressed to Fanny (Smith) Seymour in Kinwarton that I never photographed? (Alas, a couple of them!)

The letter in question is unmistakably written by youngest sister Maria Smith. She has such scrawling penmanship, with a very distinctive “W”. Also, as Mamma’s youngest, she was the last in the family ‘nest’ once all her siblings had married (or died).

That it was written from Mapledurham tells me the letter could not date before October 1834, when they moved into the house (so, summer of 1835, at earliest). That Mamma was alive, tells me it could be no later than Summer 1844. Maria sounds unmarried (ie, still with Mamma), so that backed it into 1843 (and, therefore, summer of 1842 at latest).

Although a full-run of Mamma’s diaries does not exist, several for the late 1830s and early 1840s DO exist. Plus I have other letters. Several years were already removed from contention: Mamma and Maria were elsewhere than Mapledurham.

There were two clues within the content: Their visit to Chobham – home of sister Eliza and her husband Denis Le Marchant – sounded too much like Maria describing what NO ONE among the siblings had yet seen. I had to find a date for their move.

The other was Maria saying that Arthur Currie had purchased a horse (heavily contributed to by Mamma) for Maria’s use. Not the EASIEST to find, someone commenting again on a new horse. Maria asked her sister Fanny what name should the horse be given – so, unlike “Jack Daw” or “Tom Tit“, I knew of no name to search for.

I had already searched Mamma’s diaries – but went back to 1840 again. And THERE found a comment about CHOBHAM! It became unmistakable: Maria and Mamma had returned home from a visit to Chobham in August 1840.

Frosting on the cake was that Maria, a couple of letters later, commented that she was pleased with her New Horse!

I call this a small victory because the letter still has no ending.

There have been times in the past, when a WIDOW torso gets a date close enough to an ORPHAN torso (yes, that’s what I call them…), that a closer look is warranted. A couple of times, the flow of the sentence AND the topic of conversation indicated that they were, indeed, one and the same letter. I remember once, spotting a DATE, buried within the handwriting, a confirmation of my hunch — after reuniting a pair.

Across archives, I have several incomplete, widow or orphan torso-only letters. I live in hope… But nothing dropped into place this time. Missing photographs? Missing envelope? Irretrievably-missing pages?

Envelopes were easy prey in the past – for their postal marks, their STAMPS, their wax seals. Hand-stamps [cancellations and handwritten marks] in the early, prestamp, era made (and make) “wrappers” and “free fronts” highly collectable. The wrappers got divided from letters, robbing the letter of its definitive dating. The free fronts – where the “direction” is cut away from the rest of the page, robs the letter of CONTENT. The reverse side’s content (if there) appearing as disparate sentences with few beginnings or endings. MADDENING to know the original – full – letter must have been jettisoned after the “surgery”. All for the saving of the “collectible” signature that allowed the piece of mail to travel for free.

Once such “collection” of autographs had SIX LINES missing from a Jane Austen letter. Its discovery (a long time after the album’s sale) caused a *STIR* in Austen circles in 2019! And it really did end up being about … LAUNDRY!

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Candice Hern: What’s inside a Lady’s Reticule?

February 6, 2021 at 10:51 am (entertainment, history, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

Last year’s visit to Cleveland, Ohio for the JASNA AGM turned into a virtual event. Among the nicest, most interesting side-entertainments were the videos made to enlighten participants about anything from “Regency” food and gardens, to making marbled papers (truly fascinating!).

New to the JASNA – Jane Austen Society of North America – website is the first in a series of three videos by author Candice Hern: “What a Lady Might Carry in her Reticule“. For me, these videos were super instructive because I can pinpoint times when Emma Smith (Mrs. James Edward Austen) secured for herself nearly every little item Candice Hern brings to the attention of the camera. Hers is a tremendous collection! And now she’s sharing her collection with everyone via these freely-viewable videos.

Part I of “What a Lady Might Carry in Her Reticule” discusses Calendars and Almanacs. Says Hern, when discussing her “Smalls” (the “tiny” items my Emma would have readily recognized), “I’ve been collecting antiques for decades, many of them from the years during which Jane Austen lived.” [click photo to go to the JASNA website]

Part 2, available shortly, features “Scents and Cosmetics”; Part 3, “Coin Purses, Fans, and Vinaigrettes”.

You may also wish to visit Candice Hern’s “Regency World” website. And do keep in mind the future plans at JASNA to include more videos in their *new* Austen’s World Up-Close. The JASNA Post brings you all the new (and give links to old) Announcements, News, and Observations in one handy place.

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Jane Austen Society: Reports

December 21, 2020 at 12:04 pm (books, entertainment, history, jane austen, jasna, people) (, , , , )

If you are unfamiliar with Persuasions / Persuasions On-line, the journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), (see blog post, “Jane Austen’s Birthday publication“), you may not realize the extent to which Austen Societies in other countries publish Austenian research.

The Jane Austen Society (JAS) in the U.K. publishes an “Annual Report,” and has even collected them into “omnibus” editions over the decades. These editions have been reprinted; and (of course!) are sometimes found in used book stores (and on their websites). I found a decently-priced copy, in Germany if I remember correctly, of the Collected Reports, 1986-1995. It was about that time that I started thinking about “fleshing out” my collection.

For the longest time JAS, unlike JASNA, did not have online availability of the contents of their oldest issues. All that has changed!

JAS Reports have been consistent in providing nuggets of Austen family history, which I of course relish.

Just yesterday, in beginning to read E.J. Clery’s Jane Austen, The Banker’s Sister (which has for too long been in my To Be Read pile), I had reason to find the JAS Annual Report for 2007 – Clery cites an article in that issue on Papermaking (for the Bank of England) and the Portal family, written by Helen Lefroy.

I knew where to look – for I had long ago found the *STASH* of JAS Reports, uploaded to Internet Archive.org. But I never told you, dear Readers, about this *find,* did I?

Internet Archive is the site that also hosts the Austen Family Music books, where you can gaze and study the music copied by various members of the family, including Jane Austen.

Currently, Jane Austen Society Annual Reports include:

  • Collected Reports, 1949-1965
  • Collected Reports, 1966-1975
  • Collected Reports, 1976-1985
  • Collected Reports, 1986-1995
  • Collected Reports, 1996-2000 [includes Index, 1949-2000]
  • Collected Reports, 2001-2005

Then follows the single JAS Annual Report for the years, 2006 through 2018.

I recognize the cover for the 2017 Report – and it reminds me of another piece of (old) Austen “news” that I don’t think I mentioned yet to Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen. I’ll put that on my “To Be Blogged” pile. The curious may click on the picture to be brought to Internet Archive (which should sort the titles by year, so scroll down for later Reports).

 

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Jane Austen’s Birthday publication

December 16, 2020 at 1:03 pm (books, jane austen, jasna, news) (, , )

Persuasions On-line, the journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, publishes their latest issue on the date of Jane Austen’s birth: December 16th. Today!

So, if you wish to find some “food for thought” as you Toast Miss Austen for her works, check out Volume 41 – free and available to all – Persuasions On-line.

Having attended – virtually and remotely – this year’s AGM on the Austen Juvenilia, participants were able to “attend” for 30-days beyond the actual “live AGM” weekend and listen to MORE breakout sessions than just one per session. We could also go back and re-listen to special interest sessions and plenary talks.

Many of my favorites are now “in print”, including:

  • Alden O’Brien, “What Did the Austen Children Wear and Why? New Trends in British Children’s Clothing, 1760-1800”
  • Mackenzie Sholtz and Kristen Miller Zohn, “‘A Staymaker of Edinburgh’: Corsetry in the Age of Austen”
  • Gillian Dooley, “Juvenile Songs and Lessons: Music Culture in Jane Austen’s Teenage Years”

A section called STAYING AT HOME WITH JANE AUSTEN: READING AND WRITING DURING A PANDEMIC, will help provide entertainment and thoughtful solutions for times of “isolation” and/or lockdown.

The “Miscellany” always includes non-AGM topics and are on point enough this year to include one “Karen” article! (If you’ve seen the U.S. news, you’ll know what a “Karen” represents during this time of “plague”; otherwise, I have to hand you over to google), Sarah Makowski‘s article is entitled, “‘Do You Know Who I Am?’ Lady Catherine de Bough, Jane Austen’s Proto-Karen.”

Two “In Memoriam” articles, both written by Persuasions / Persuasions On-line editor Susan Allen Ford, honor those who were fundamental in forwarding a love for Jane Austen and her work, and life-long devotion to uncovering the trail of Austenian research: Lorraine Hanaway, a JASNA founder; and Deirdre Le Faye, whose name graces so many publications.

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Virtual Jane Austen – Cleveland AGM

October 10, 2020 at 9:25 am (books, entertainment, jane austen, jasna) (, , )

Am spending the weekend in a VIRTUAL Cleveland, Ohio – the site of our JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) Annual General Meeting. Meeting in person, of course, got canceled back in the spring of 2020.

Last night’s opening featured:

Opening Remarks by JASNA President Liz Philosophos Cooper. She announced that the Virtual Event AGM attracted 1400 participants (a JASNA record, of course) – and gave a special shout-out to one “senior” in Japan, a member for 30 years, attending her first AGM (one of 466 first-timers).

Members learned of the death of a founding member of JASNA, Lorraine Hanaway, her daughter Annie giving a taped interview. I had the pleasure to meet Lorraine, a “neighbor” in New Hampshire at the time, and last saw her at one of the AGMs. She will be missed by many.

We heard a taped address from Chawton’s Jane Austen’s House Museum – new director Lizzie Dunford.

The most intellectually stimulating event was the lengthy “Conversation with Juliet McMaster” – Fascinating insight into a life spent with education, literature and art; as well, an inspection of Austen’s JUVENILIA, the topic of this year’s AGM.

“Entertainment” came in the form of a Special Interest Session that would have (under normal circumstances) been performed at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Aside from our hostess – who I will come back to – our “Rock Stars” were:

Emma, Lady Hamilton – love interest of Lord Nelson

Frances Burney (Madame d’Arblay) – contemporary novelist

Dora Jordan – actress & love interest of William, Duke of Clarence

The Prince Regent – complete with wine bottle & glass

Lord Byron – poet leading a scandalous life

All hosted (and scripted) by Dolly Parton.

This must be Jocelyn Harris’ _vote_ for Dolly to be inducted (in the future) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her absence (and that of many WOMEN) was obviously a story back in January 2020. I see their website is experiencing “technical difficulties” – attack of the Janeites? or the fans of Dolly??

The evening ended with a BritBox presentation of the first two episodes of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice – newly “remastered” Here’s a hint as to why nearly everyone raves:

Mr. Darcy: “I beg you…. consent to be my wife.”

The conference continues today and tomorrow – though, being ‘virtual’, participants are able to “attend” as many Break-Out Sessions as they please, over the next 30 days. Special Interest Sessions, Games, even the Emporium are still happening. The one thing missing: Company and Meals. This AGM paves the way for more participants, from around the global (barring time differences for some) for dipping into future *live* AGMs.

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Art and Artifact in Austen

May 3, 2020 at 10:32 am (books, history, jane austen) (, , )

A new book, based on a SUNY-Plattsburgh Conference entitled, Jane Austen and The Arts: A Bicentenary Conference, which took place 23-25 Marcy 2017. I remember it being rather cold and even snowy up here, especially whenever I ferried across Lake Champlain to reach upstate New York. “Jane” always does seem to bring out the extremes of our Vermont weather in March….

Art-Artifact in Austen

Editor Anna Battigelli, the conference organizer, has included articles presented in 2017, as well as some c”omplimentary material, covering all aspects of “art” in Jane Austen’s writing and life.

I well remember this three-day conference. It remains *special* for several reasons: the size was perfect – the enthusiasm high – the scholarship thought-provoking. A highlight was the song cycle “Marianne Dashwood: Songs of Love and Misery“, an original piece commissioned and sung by Meaghan Martin (Douglas Sumi, piano). No CD with the book, I’m afraid! But a peek at the table of contents will give indication of the wealth of topics between the covers:

  • “Portraiture as Misrepresentation in the Novels and Early Writings of Jane Austen” (Peter Sabor)
  • “Jane Austen’s ‘Artless’ Heroines: Catherine Morland and Fanny Price” (Elaine Bander)
  • “Legal Arts and Artifacts in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” (Nancy E. Johnson)
  • “Jane Austen and the Theatre? Perhaps Not So Much” (Deborah C. Payne)
  • “Everything is Beautiful: Jane Austen at the Ballet” (Cheryl A. Wilson)
  • “Jane Austen, Marginalia, and Book Culture” (Marilyn Francus)
  • “Gender and Things in Austen and Pope” (Barbara M. Benedict)
  • “ ‘A Very Pretty Amber Cross’: Material Sources of Elegance in Mansfield Park” (Natasha Duquette)
  • “Religious Views: English Abbeys in Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Emma” (Tonya J. Moutray)
  • “Intimate Portraiture and the Accomplished Woman Artist in Emma (Juliette Wells)
  • “‘Is she Musical?’ Players and Nonplayers in Austen’s Fiction” (Linda Zionkowski and Miriam Hart)
  • “What Jane Saw—in Henrietta Street” (Jocelyn Harris)

You can read the “Introduction: The Intimate Ironies of Jane Austen’s Arts and Artifacts” online, when you click on “Look Inside”. I look forward to reliving some *warm* memories!

 

 

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Stop to Smell the ROSES

March 29, 2020 at 9:35 am (jane austen, people) (, , , )

Last week I divided a bouquet – flowers at my mother’s grave; gifted to my aunt; and a couple retained for myself.

Photo Mar 22, 12 36 45 PM

The color GRABBED me when I saw them, a deep blush pink – They “called to me.”

Then I spotted their ‘name’:

Photo Mar 22, 12 36 06 PM

LOVELY LYDIA

How could someone who reads Jane Austen and researches her niece-by-marriage, Emma Austen Leigh, RESIST? Instantly, sprang to mind: “LYDIA BENNET” (Pride and Prejudice, of course).

By the time I got home, though, I found the name had morphed in my mind into:

Laughing Lydia

and that is what I call them now, whenever I glance at these roses, though the blooms in my vase have now “dried” into little dangling bells of pink blush.

I leave you that thought today, and wish you – especially those who are home, sheltering from the coronavirus – to “take a moment and smell the roses.” Enjoy what brings you pleasure, whether online or in a book (for instance). Revel in good health, or increasing health if you’ve been ill (any illness). Leave a moment, too, to remember those no longer in your life. And always: LAUGH along with Lydia.

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Dress in the Age of Jane Austen (review)

March 21, 2020 at 7:56 pm (books, entertainment, fashion, history, jane austen) (, , , )

Hilary Davidson‘s exploration of Jane Austen’s silk pelisse fascinated (when first read in 2015) because of the thoroughness of its details. Her book, Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, grew out of this initial research.

Upon receipt, even quickly flipping through the book, I could see this wasn’t the typical “soft soap” about Regency dress. It has text (plenty of it), political cartoons and portraits, and, most importantly, photographs of actual garments. I also liked the inherent progression indicated by the outline of chapters – Self, Home, Village, Country, City, etc. A VERY GOOD out-of-the-box reaction.

Davidson_Dress

First Impressions – a (long) preamble…

I quickly emailed a friend, and included a link to the google preview. We both had similar thoughts: ANY illustration on the cover but “Mrs. Q”!

  • “Mrs. Q” has been put forward as the work Austen referred to when commenting: “I was very well pleased (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy. …

Never judge a book by its cover, BUT the hackneyed illustration did put me off when Dress in the Age of Jane Austen turned up in a search for upcoming releases, months before receiving the book in the mail. There are so many books about “costume” and “Jane Austen.”

  • for instance: read an old review of Penelope Byrde‘s book (reprint edition)

My friend, looking at the text online, was the first to point out “the font is so pale, more suitable to captions than main text. Or is that my eyes??”

I had to reply, that it wasn’t her eyes playing tricks, or a bad scan into google books. When I first got the book, the evening was dark and the lights were on in the house, but I needed different light to read. Instead, I looked at the pretty pictures. The paper (very nice paper) is slightly shiny, which combined with the font’s SIZE and WEIGHT does not make this volume easy to read. My friend’s later response was, “The author hasn’t been well served by the book designer.”

Another blogger’s review (Austenprose) brought up the same difficulty: “My one disappointment will be minor to some and troublesome to others. The small text is difficult to read, amplified by the choice of swirly font in gray color. I struggled to read smoothly, even with glasses.”

Illustration captions are even smaller and greyer than the main text.

In early December I read some of the book. I wasn’t making much headway with the opening chapter (“Introduction”), but did get more out of the chapter (“Home”) on underwear.

***

A little ‘Sense’ please

Along with the font, my other complaint is the bare-bones information in the endnotes. Citations list author name and publication date, which means to really look up the source, the reader has to flip from the Notes to the Bibliography. Several times I had to flip from “Secondary” to “Primary” (or vice-versa), for the Bibliography is divided into two sections (no footer or header indicates the specific section).

For instance: pp. 102/103 had in the notes “Burney, 1905” [note 20; ‘Village’] and three notes later “Edgeworth, 1971”. The Burney is an early edition of Fanny Burney’s Diary and Letters; therefore, it is found in the Bibliography under ‘Primary’ Sources. The Edgeworth, also a ‘Primary’ source, is Christine Colvin’s edition of Maria Edgeworth, Letters from England, 1813-1844. I looked under secondary sources both times, because of the dates.

An intrusion on the reading experience.

Other than ease of accessibility (a 1905 book being online), I would have thought the authoritative Oxford University Press / McGill-Queens University Press series of Burney journals and letters preferable. I finally hunted down volume V of the 1905 edition (edited by Charlotte Barrett); the quote is on page 200 (not page 199, as cited), and, finally, the pertinent information: in a letter to Mrs Lock, dated 1793. BUT: in looking up this citation I now am bothered because the story is inaccurately retold…

This is Davidson (p. 102):

davidson p102 quote

Davidson’s 1905 source; Burney’s letter to Mrs. Lock (sic: Locke):

davidson p200 barrett quote

Miss Kitty and Mrs. Hamilton clearly are two different people!  They are ID’ed in Oxford’s Additional Journals and Letters (vol. 1), p. 60, as Mrs. Sarah Hamilton and her niece Miss Kitty Cooke, managers of Chessington Hall, Surrey, a boarding house. ‘Miss’ Kitty and ‘Mrs.’ Hamilton (both, unmarried ladies) were, in 1793, approximately 63- and 88-years-old. I had pictured the Captain following young Miss Kitty from room to room, when in actuality he followed the maid “too quick” and caught sight of the not-forewarned Mrs. Hamilton.

If such important, albeit slight, details got away from Davidson, I wonder about other statements, conclusions, and examples. Page 102 was picked at random, today, in an effort to finish this review today (21 March 2020). I wish I hadn’t unearthed this….

  • The same 1793 letter (snippet only) in Joyce Hemlow’s 1972 Clarendon Press edition, which I piece together and note that it is given the date 30 May 1793.

***

In need of some ‘Persuasion’

Davidson gives a LOT of information, but I don’t always find material well-presented. Sometimes a position is taken, but isn’t followed by explanation, enlargement, or argument/counter-argument. She moves on to another quote, another topic. I can’t call it going off on “tangents.” More, “Why include this here?”

For instance, Davidson talks about needing the services of a maid to make one’s dress “tight,” and includes a quote about the “looseness of … morning dress” when, at breakfast.

Davidson, p. 78:

davidson p79

I can see someone being “loose” in the Scarlett O’Hara corset sense, but I’m still unsure about being “tight.” I wanted more than just quote(s). After the novel heroine speaks of PINS — “I was again forced to comply, and stick pins into my cloaths.” — I hoped for answers. WHAT did Regency women DO with all those pins? My diarist Emma Smith (later Emma Austen Leigh) purchased many pincushions… I have images of women being as prickly as porcupines, done up with so many straight pins.

  • Regency Redingote” composed a lengthy discourse on pins – and, although it doesn’t clarify Davidson‘s commentary about being “tight” in one’s clothing, it does say what all those pins were used for during the Regency!

A stockingless, unbuttoned William Wordsworth creates its own, clear picture of a man’s “undress”; Miss Weeton, on the other hand, I determined to look up. I own the two-volume set (Miss Weeton’s Journal of a Governess), as well as the newer single-volume, Miss Weeton: Governess and Traveller, by Alan Roby.

Miss Weeton had spent the NIGHT aboard ship. She had loosened garments because she slept in them. The quote continues, “I wrapped my coat round me, and threw my shawl over it; my hair uncombed, uncurled, my face wan, and eyes sunken. I presented no very beautiful picture.” Looking like something the cat dragged in, poor Miss Weeton needed to pass muster when asking for a room at an inn. Miss Weeton’s distress is missed; the poignancy of the original, lost. This reader became no more enlightened about Davidson’s point. The long communication was best presented by words in her first paragraph.

  • Re-reading these exacts, and comparing them, I’m confused: Did visitors wear “walking or visiting dresses” as mentioned on page 102, or were they in a state of “undress” when “paying morning visits,” as on page 78?

Another instance: In the chapter “Country,” which discusses outerwear and clothing adapted from the “field” or the “hunt,” there is, on the left-hand page, a full-page-wide (color) illustration of Alexander Carse’s “The Arrival of the Country Relations” (c1812). The text on the right-hand page (p. 145), referring to this, claims that the painting “contrasts two family groups, of urban and rural origins, through subtle clothing cues [endnote].” Davidson then quotes from a novel (Caroline Lismore).

I wanted to know more about the “subtle clothing cues”!

I looked up the citation – an author name and date; I looked up the Bibliography: a journal article…. I have no access to it.

Is the caption below the illustration meant to substitute for or enlarge upon the main text? “An elegant urban Edinburgh family welcomes relatives from the country. The differences in their styles of dress are subtle, but distinctly realized, the rural visitors favouring simpler, more covered clothing.

The directive of “look at this painting; see these clues” felt unfulfilled and under-developed.

  • Without seeing the SOURCE article, I can only theorize, from reading travel diaries, that “Covered” helped people stay warm, “Simpler” enabled them to shed road dust more easily; both may have benefited them at dubious coaching yards or in warding off highwaymen.

Davidson, sure and informative when discussing clothing styles, fabrics, construction, has a tendency to jump from quote to statement in a manner that did not always sweep this reader along. Often I found myself back-tracking, re-reading for something I might have missed.

Under the heading GETTING AND ALTERING CLOTHES (p. 116), the first paragraph brings up the following points:

  • clothes had a high valuation
  • clothes were “a considerable, infrequent investment” for the “middling and upper ranks”
  • clothes were planned and discussed (i.e., mentioned in letters)
  • garments were generally “bespoke”, but some were off-the-rack
  • towns and villages had tailors
  • for men who had “no woman to sew their linens,” ready-made or professionally-made articles “filled the gap”
  • a tailor from Preston, bankrupted in 1821, had an inventory of “645 garments and accessories, 219 were men’s shirts”
  • Women rarely undertook sewing “men’s outer clothing” because the skills required were not obtained by “sewing linens”
  • Mary Wordsworth, working on her husband’s “‘woolen waistcoat'” may have been “knitting or working on a flannel-type garment”
  • The Wordsworth women “spent a day” picking apart “his old coats for the tailor” (to serve as patterns for new garments).

There are so many topics within this single paragraph, many of which would have served the author well, if sorted out for more in-depth explanation – be it the cost of clothes (either through tailor/client records; or through criminal prosecution valuations); the use of tailors, seamstresses and others versus homemade; bespoke clothing versus the reuse of clothing (re-constructed by owner, as well as second-hand purchases) versus the good fit of a client’s well-worn piece (ie, used as patterns). Much outlined here does appear at greater length in various chapters. So why jumble, sentence upon sentence, everything in one paragraph? A red pencil, judicious rearrangement, and (self-)editing would have resolved many such annoyances.

A lack of argumentative development is especially true when a blanket historical statement is presented. If underlying, supportive facts are missing, such statements appear as generalizations, less ‘authoritative’ in tone, than the same statements supported and expanded upon.

Convoluted word order (clauses within clauses) would have benefited from being more carefully crafted: (p. 33) “Not only the bodies of Grant Tourists, but also print media – increasingly popular – disseminated ideas about classical form across Britain.” I know what the author wants to say, and means, but Davidson’s phrasing, in addition to the grey, swirly font, increased this reader’s frustration.

Long “lists,” like this on page 145, made my eyes skip lines:

“Farmers, ploughmen, carters, milkmaids, blacksmiths, beggars, ragmen, tinkers, pedlars, fishermen, thatchers, drovers, field hands, harvesters, millers, stone-cutters and -crushers, miners, coopers, masons, carpenters, chair-menders, joiners, fencers, cottagers, washerwomen and all the multitude of tradespeople…”

I usually give “less personal opinion” in a book review; there will be readers who find the authorial voice satisfactory, but I struggled, wishing for writing as engaging as the topic. Biographers sometimes pour between the covers every morsel of research unearthed, and I do wonder if the fractured flow I quibble over is a result of such “cramming.” Does it really matter what a street vendor cries out to attract customers?

If some of the verbiage had been cut, the font size could have been increased, and content and design would have united in a superior book. As it stands, it’s a bit of a Missed Opportunity. Wanting to be “all” to all comers and about all classes, from tinker to servant, from farm to manor, from city-dweller to court-regular, males and females, young and old, I do think Dress in the Age of Jane Austen an ambitious attempt. Who am I to criticize? It has so much going for it, that the pluses should outweigh the minuses.

If historical costume at all interests you, you might wish to put this book on your radar. Yale presents a 16-second “introduction”, but the best is the Google preview. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion is a sumptuous book, on a fascinating topic, filled with valuable information. It covers a broad geography and moves from intimate undergarments to all-weather outerwear. The Annie Burr Lewis Fund probably helped fund publication fees associated with the multitudinous illustrations, as well as the full-color printing. A suggested retail of US$40, Amazon currently sells it for $27 and change, which is a hardcover bargain.

A good book to ‘dip into’, I tried reading it cover-to-cover, which only increased the stress of articulating my negative thoughts about it. Very useful appendices (Austen family tree and list of characters for each novel plus two fragments, for those without other resources or prior knowledge); a stylistic Timeline of women’s gowns; a glossary. The index is almost too detailed – many entries have only one page number; for instance, I don’t foresee a need to look up hairstyle, blond. Austen’s characters should have been indexed on the page that outlines them.

Blonde, by the way, leads the reader to “Mrs. Q,” which cycles us back to the beginning of this far too long review.

three-and-a-half slightly leaking inkwells

 

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Amelia Rauser’s The Age of Undress

March 3, 2020 at 9:12 am (books, entertainment, fashion, jane austen, Uncategorized) (, , , )

In yesterday’s mail, a new book that will hit stores on St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March 2020: The Age of Undress: Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s, by Amelia Rauser (Yale University Press).

Age of Undress216 pages; 180 color illustrations

We’ve all seen the sheer muslin gowns – marveled over the audacity of such ‘nakedness’ – and laughed at the “cartoons” Gillray, Cruickshank, or Dent produced that ridiculed the latest fashion extreme. Rauser brings together portraits and sculpture, cartoons and fashion plates to pose questions and reveal answers about the relationship between Neoclassicism, Hellenistic ideals of the sculpted female form, and fashion trends that quickly surged (and subsided) in such fashion-forward places as Naples, Paris, and London, in the 1790s.

Very welcome is the concentration on a small timeline, an in-depth exploration of clothing seen (and probably worn) by the mothers and maternal aunts of my diarists, Mary Gosling and Emma Smith (also known by their married names: Lady Smith and Emma Austen Leigh), my Two Teens in the Time of Austen. This “parent generation,” the four Erle Stoke Sisters and their friends, were single women and young marrieds in the very time period Rauser discusses.

A full review in the near future.

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Austen Leigh’s Memoir in Woolfs’ Library

February 25, 2020 at 8:56 am (books, entertainment, jane austen, people) (, , )

Given the chapter on Virginia Woolf in the book Square Haunting [see previous post], it was a *thrill* to find this “Short Title Catalog” of books in the Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Square Haunting

The thrill comes from seeing so many Jane Austen-related titles, including a 1926 “review copy” of Chapman’s edition of James Edward Austen Leigh‘s A Memoir of Jane Austen.

The Austen titles become quite the revelation. The list has several copies of Pride and Prejudice; also some tantalizing early 20th-century publications, like “Five Letters from Jane Austen to her Niece Fanny Knight” (1924); “Two Chapters of Persuasion … with a Facsimile” (1926) [one of the two copies on handmade paper]; “Volume the First” (1933); and even “Lady Susan” (1925).

Of course, the whole list of the Woolfs’ library is what gives a great deal of food for thought. Someone’s “library” drops so many clues about the interests of that person.

 

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