Yesterday, 16 December 2016, being the anniversary of the birth of JANE AUSTEN, JASNA – the Jane Austen Society of North America – published their annual journal, Persuasions On-Line. It is interesting to see papers presented at the Washington DC AGM (annual general meeting) that _I_ sat in the audience to hear.
[NB: I did not submit my paper, “Sketching Box Hill with Emma,” for publication.]
The article I opened, however, was among the Miscellany: Gillian Dooley‘s article on “‘The Bells Rang and Every Body Smiled’: Jane Austen’s ‘Courtship Novels’.” I think all fans of Austen have come up against the “dismissive” stares, shrugs, and “Who?” comments. Because I publish and speak on aspects of Austen and the early Austen Leighs (my research subject), I’ve mentioned “Jane Austen” in job interviews. Several interviewers had NO clue who she was, never mind what she had written. Others recalled “costumed fans” and, yes, ‘Courtship’ films.
Has it been film then that has created this atmosphere of Austen as a kind of ‘romance writer’? For, in many cinematic offerings, the dramatic underpinnings of her novels disappear in order to make a pleasing, coherent, and “short” adaptation. The one thing that is always in place (of course) is the heroine’s ‘romance’ storyline. And it’s the couples that fans remember and love to discuss:
Even those couples who might have been:
But does that mean the films and even the novels are “Courtship”-based? I have long contended that I read Austen because they are slices of life, true windows into a time, place, milieu, that otherwise I only read about through history texts. The films may stick in the memory, but the novels are what I return to again and again. And, luckily, puzzling out the letters and diaries the Smiths and Goslings have left behind has allowed me to grasp small details that Austen’s original readers “knew” but which I have had to “learn” about.
So, this morning, I was musing over the MANY ‘romances’ of the story of my Two Teens. Would I term their lives – as any resultant writing must, out of necessity, condense their real histories – as center on ‘Courtship’ merely because courtships begin and conclude within the covers of a book about them?
To answer one question posed by Gillian Dooley, “There are courtships in the [Austen] novels, but are they in any overarching sense primarily ‘about’ courtship?” with a simplistic ‘No’ should, therefore, also cover the “history” of this large, extended family.
To take one “for instance”: The Colebrooke sisters, Belinda and Harriet, come into the circle of the Smith family in 1816/17. The basics of their history: Harriet dies young and Belinda marries Charles Smith (Emma’s brother). More can be deciphered about Belinda’s life because she married. And, it is her marriage that ended her life: Belinda Smith died in childbirth, before the age of 25.
It was all a “fact of life” back then.
Even today, we seek out a partner; live together; marry if we can. No one wants to be alone – and, given the cold world in which we live, a little human warmth within the home is something everyone can appreciate.
(yes, I’ve long thought Carey Mulligan a quintessential Belinda)
I’ve recently found a lovely portrait (perhaps by her eldest sister-in-law, Augusta Smith) of Belinda Lady Smith. And even a tiny silhouette of her sister Harriet Colebrooke. Harriet was even younger, only 18 at her death. For the longest time her (ultimately) fatal illness was the focus for poor Harriet’s historical remembrance. She was an appendage; a younger sister who obligingly got out of the way; a dead sibling who made the “heroine” that much more attractive to the “hero”. And there was even an “over the top” drama-queen of a mother! Belinda, left on her own by her sister’s demise, was due to be “rewarded” by marriage to a good and very eligible young man.
To to my mind, however, it was hard not to think of Belinda as “the other woman”: Mary Gosling, the girl next door and Charles Smith’s second wife was the first diarist I unearthed (now, ten years ago).
Yes, young Talulah Riley, as Mary Bennet [above], put me in mind of Mary Gosling – rather tossed aside as a close friend, never mind as a potential love interest, once the doomed Colebrooke sisters came on the scene.
As an historian, I knew – nearly from the beginning – what the “end result” for EVERYone was. I knew when they were born; who they married (or didn’t); knew when they died. What I had to unearth was all the LIFE in between the pertinent “dates”.
And even now there comes surprises; welcome surprises, as it happens. Even someone like Harriet Colebrooke, on the scene for only a handful of years, takes on new importance.
“Why?” you might ask.
“Because, she had a fella!” A young man, who does appear in Emma Smith’s diaries, but who seemed just one of the crowd, was actually interested in, and pursued, Harriet Colebrooke.
Like her elder sister, Belinda, Harriet came to any relationship with a LOT of baggage. Charles Smith had the unenviable task of “approving” the young man, especially once he began to suspect that Harriet was transferring her affections to himself.
Harriet never lived long enough, of course, to see her sister married to Charles. I don’t even know if Charles ever really had to say, “I’m not interested”. That mystery is still inconclusive.
Which brings me back to Austen and the ‘Courtship’ Novel. In such a novel, there are often MANY vying for the hand of the heroine. There are those wholly unsuitable:
There are those whom the observer hopes will win out in the end:
As Dooley asserts, “I would expect the heroine [of a courtship novel] to have one or more men actively playing court to her throughout the novel. And I don’t think that any of Austen’s novels quite fit that standard.” She sums up by saying, “it is the assiduous attention of the hero to gain the heroine’s hand throughout the courtship novel that I think is the missing element.”
Just as in life.
Even when the “grass is greener” on the other side of that proverbial fence, as when Charles begins to suspect that Harriet’s interest in himself is pushing her interest in William Sumner (her beau) to one side. Here is no flat declaration of love, but a mystery: Does she? Doesn’t she? How do I handle it?
And everyone LOVES a mystery.
When Elizabeth Bennet turns down Darcy’s proposal, few contemporary readers would have foreseen them ending up together at the novel’s end. There might even have been NO marriages at the end of Pride and Prejudice. Contemporary Readers were enjoying the ride, living in the moment with all the Bennets. Suffering their disappointments and, yes, rejoicing over their happiness. That ‘happiness’ included marriages, and those came within pages of the end is good fortune for readers who – metaphorically AND literally – could close the book at the end of a concluding chapter in the characters’ lives.
In a courtship novel, the marriage is the “be-all”. It has to end it all because little more was the novel’s focus. In Austen’s slices of life, the characters live on. The clues of the mystery behind attraction (even repulsion), love, loss, daily life in another land and another era, keep readers coming back for more.
If a MAN had written Austen novels, would we even be discussing “courtship” as their basis – or would it be treated, as courtship (without quotation marks) deserves to be treated: as a MOST INTERESTING part of life, something in which EVERY reader can sympathize.
Austen’s novels touch on economics (those with little funds as well as those with very fat purses, indeed); privations and sacrifices; sibling love and sibling rivalries; one’s role within society; the tumult of the times – even though, like today, one lives life somewhat disconnected (unless war comes to touch one personally). Austen’s novels help explain the minutiae I’ve seen discussed or recorded in the papers of the Smiths; and the Smiths explain what should be of more importance in Austen’s novels.
They are the perfect MATCH! History informing literature, and literature helping to inform biography.
And a coincidence, as could only happen in real life, that Emma Smith becomes (though eleven years after the author’s death) a niece by marriage to Cassandra and Jane Austen, Frank, Charles, and Henry Austen, and Edward Knight. That Emma Austen read Austen’s Emma prior to marriage, and with her intended, is a fitting close for that chapter of her life – one which can be said to have ended in marriage. Life is about so much more than birth-marriage-death, but as a fundamental courtship and marriage is a commonality that happens to most, and interests even those who do not experience it first-hand.
The “mysteries” of their lives keep me digging for more clues – even as some “new” clue only leads to further mystery. It is the pleasure derived from “digging” again and again, that Readers, who read Austen with a mind open to discovering new clues amid well-known strophes, enjoy as much as (if not more than) the ‘courtships’ with which each novel ends.
“[T]he plans and decisions of mortals,” to use the words of the narrator of Mansfield Park, forms the basis behind Two Teens in the Time of Austen, as well as the six novels of Jane Austen. “Courtship” is part of the story of life, and “courtship” may be the most human part in general. The need to feel connected, to someone (mate or friend), is a powerful emotion.
In August, Anna, on the blog AUSTENISED, wrote about her visit to The Vyne – the Hampshire estate of the Chute family. I invite you to walk in Anna’s footsteps:
I cannot subscribe to a theory of “hostility” between Jane Austen and Eliza or William Chute, but welcome the beautiful shots of the house and its interior.
As to Jane and the Chutes: The crux lies in the liberal use at the time of the word ‘civil’, and I take into account Jane Austen’s wry humor – especially when writing to her sister. The sentence typically quoted is not a damning one, in my opinion. That Eliza Chute was drawn to James Austen (The Vyne’s local clergyman) must also be seen to play a part in the Austen family dynamics. Still, the Austen sisters did visit The Vyne; as well, the Chutes paid visits (as Jane’s comment attests) to the senior Austens at Steventon.
At election time, it’s hard NOT to think of:
Pocket & Rotten Boroughs
In “the shadow of the American War of Independence” came so hotly a contested election for the seat of Northampton, it pretty much knocked out the family finances for the Earls of Northampton (ie, the father of Emma’s Uncle Northampton). It has gone down in history as the “Spendthrift Election” (1767/68).
The “contest of the three earls” (Earl Spencer, Earl Halifax, and the Earl of Northampton [pictured]) has been described as: ‘the most violent contest for aristocratic pre-eminence that has taken place for the last century’. Rumors put Lord Northampton’s spending at the level of £100,000 – a prodigious sum. His daughter-in-law (our Lady Northampton, née Maria Smith of Erle Stoke Park) still cringed a half-century later, at the “expense” of “canvassing”.
Not long after the campaign, the Earl of Northampton left England – for Switzerland – never returning. His son (our Lord Northampton) is said to have been on the lookout for a wealthy heiress… to bolster the sagging family funds, and to upkeep the family seat, Castle Ashby.
Some things NEVER seem to change.
It’s a bit of a mystery, because I KNOW I have looked at the letters of Jane and Thomas Carlyle online – but the server seems to be having problems (and it’s been days). They used to be available free; maybe that is changing; I don’t know.
But you can access TWEETS of the Carlyles – and interesting reading they make too; for instance, Thomas Carlyle:
“My existence is marked by almost nothing, but that silent stream of thoughts and whims and fantasies”
Or recently from Jane Welsh Carlyle:
“For me, I am purposely living without purpose”
I was at a New Hampshire second-hand bookstore that I love (Old Number Six Book Depot, in Henniker); one *find* was a “new” book of Jane’s letters – but I have one or two volumes already, and without having the book with me I couldn’t know whether indeed the letters would have been “new” to me or not. Jane Welsh Carlyle is a favorite! Which is why I would have loved to have also cited their site with access to their letters – and put it on the list of Online Diaries and Online Letters that I’ve begun (yes, a work in progress at the moment) on the Regency Reads blog. More coming, as I go through notes – though WHY did I only think of books, and never the terrific finds online??? Some great sites – and great “thoughts” waiting to be discovered.
I have been very impressed – after finding the Capability Brown accounts book online – with the online outreach of the Royal Horticultural Society.
This is their blog post about a diary – of a Victorian Gardener. Who cannot take to heart a diary that is described by its new owners (RHS, since 2014) as an “old, worn exercise book, in very poor condition”.
Inside, was the diary of James Child (born in 1838).
The manuscript should be termed a memoir, as James looked back on his life, working himself through the ranks at several large and important garden sites. But he also added to it, commenting on his life and the state of the nation through the first World War.
RHS’s article has accompanying photos and more on James’ life – including his living in EPSOM! The journal book has been conserved – so maybe we will hear more in the future.
To follow up on the DAR post, for those who may be interested in the EXHIBITION catalogue of their costume installation:
“An Agreeable Tyrant”: Fashion after the Revolution – What’s a patriotic American to wear? is described as: “Paperback, 196 color pages, lavishly illustrated with portraits and fashion plates of the period as well as the garments on display. In addition to the extensive catalog entries, there are five essays by leading experts in the field, a selected bibliography for further reference, and over twenty scaled patterns of men’s and women’s garments seen in the exhibit.”
$35 (plus shipping, which I didn’t look up) from the DAR Store’s website.
To SEE the exhibit, you only need to get to Washington DC before it closes in 2017.
Breaking news, just told to me by a friend in the area of Exeter (England):
The Royal Clarence Hotel, in the center of Exeter, Devon had been burning all day since early yesterday morning (28 Oct 2016) – and news stories now say the edifice is collapsing. A ruptered gas line helped fuel the fire. A drone will help assess damage, but from pictures I look at as I type, so much of it has been destroyed (and that’s not even looking at the interior).
Described as England’s oldest hotel, the building actually has a Smith & Gosling connection: adjoining it was Praeds Bank (1769). The hotel was originally “Assembly Rooms” brought into being by William Mackworth Praed (Emma Austen’s great aunt was born Susannah Mackworth Praed, before she married – in 1800 – Thomas Smith).
Because of the “family” connection, my friend brought me here in 2014; and we had lunch at the cafe next door.
This is very close to Exeter Cathedral; services and a concert have been cancelled.
REALLY hard to hear that the fire broke out in a gallery that was undergoing RENOVATION – that was the tale for the theater fire that destroyed La Fenice (Venice’s renowned opera house) back in 1996.
Of course, as a hotel, paying guests were in their rooms when the fire broke out. No one seems to have gotten hurt.
- breaking news on BBC: Exeter Fire: Royal Clarence Hotel Collapses due to Fire
<=The Royal Clarence, Exeter, a year ago (2015) And “today” (29 Oct 2016) =>
Although I have been to WASHINGTON DC several times over the decades, I had never entered the fabulous building that houses the Daughters of the American Revolution. WONDERFUL “period room” exhibits, and for the JASNA group an added incentive: the costume installation entitled, “An Agreeable Tyrant: Fashion after the Revolution“, which opened October 7 (2016) and runs until April 2017.
With the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (the JASNA AGM) having taken place this past weekend (21-23 October) in Washington DC – my own paper “Sketching Box Hill with Emma” being presented in the afternoon of the 22nd – there were a lot of costumes on parade in Washington. I don’t pretend to know much, but I have a stash of very useful books – for I would like to envision what my Emma and Mary would have worn. From a comment or two in the family correspondence, Mary (especially before she was widowed in 1831) was careful to look the part of a smart & stylish London Lady. The Gosling ladies had their step-mother’s shoes to step into: the Hon. Charlotte Gosling (née de Grey, related to the Barons Walsingham) was a serious society hostess in the 1810s. Every spring, during “the season” Mrs Gosling hosted routs, concerts, and parties. Her husband’s dinners are also found in the newspapers (yes, men gave ‘dinners’, but women gave other entertainments).
It still boggles MY mind that their parties could attract 300 to 600 people. How is that possible?? such a crowd in a small townhouse (No. 5 Portland Place, London).
But, to get back to the DAR.
JASNA members had morning “free”, and the DAR Museum was my one and only choice for a place to go. Thankfully, many other members had been already; for the most part I could look, read the brochure (one per room), and savor furnishings and costumes by myself. The room that stands out most is the one paneled in wood from the salvaged ship AUGUSTA. Jacobean in nature, with a lengthy table, the dark wood and colorful stained glass windows makes for a room that I’d happily spend time sitting in.
And the fact that the ship was called the AUGUSTA – the name of TWO of my ladies in the Smith family (Emma Austen’s mother and sister; never mind a slew of Augustas born in the 1820s and 1830s…).
But what really brought me to visit the DAR (free entry a big inducement) was the curator’s talk, which took place on the Thursday (the day I landed in DC) of last week.
I missed the first half of the talk, having to find the hotel, check-in, register for the conference, and get to the room – but was in time enough to hear the speaker Alden O’Brien toss off the intelligence that SHE WAS WORKING WITH A DIARY.
I pulled her aside at the end of her presentation to hear more, especially: Had she published it.
The answer to that burning question was ‘no’. The diarist – “Sylvia Lewis Tyler (1785-1851), an early nineteenth-century Everywoman, of Connecticut and Western Reserve Ohio” had left thirty years of diaries, and Alden didn’t believe ANY publisher would want that amount of material. Alden said the diary was akin to that which formed the basis of A Midwife’s Tale, the diaries by Martha Ballard [which is online at DoHistory; printed copies were also produced].
I truly do Hope She is Wrong. I can actually think of diaries that I’ve gotten copies of BECAUSE they were the “complete” set. But, in this day and age, it is a tough sell, to be sure.
Alden did say that she had published articles – and it was in looking that I found a her Common-Place post from 2011, all about her thoughts on SYLVIA’S DIARY.
Her comments, in the article, reminds me so much of a diary that I believe is being published in the spring 2017, concerning the diary of a Vermont woman that a friend (and former colleague) has been working on for over ten years. (More on that later.) Sylvia was a spinner and sewer. She lived in Bristol, Connecticut as a girl (her diaries begin at age 15), and textile & clothing is also an interest of mine – as far as production goes. I used to be a keen sewer and knitter; though I’ve never spun or weaved.
From the article: “I was taken aback when the archivist deposited nineteen manila folders before me, each containing a small, slim, hand-made volume.” Thirty years of Sylvia’s diaries. The title page (like that early diary of my Mary Gosling) claimed the diary in the name of SYLVIA LEWIS of BRISTOL.
Sylvia’s diary runs from 1801 (when she was 15 years old) to 1831 (aged 46); two years are missing and a couple of gaps exist. Alden even targeted another Bristol girl’s diary, belonging to an acquaintance! Thus are “projects” born…
Alden asks her readers, “Why did I leap into this project—and why did I stick to it?” Nearly ten years into my own project on Two Teens in the Time of Austen (Mary Gosling and Emma Smith, who – as sisters-in-law, both become related to Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen Leigh), I couldn’t wait to see what she said in reply!
- an abiding fondness for the area (ie, Bristol & environs) and interest in its local history
- Sylvia’s “records are richly informative” as regards social history
- “Most of all, Sylvia herself drew me in.”
“Once I knew the cast of characters in the diary, the entries created a narrative, and I kept wanting to know what happens next.”
I can say yes-yes-YES to the three points above, as regards Mary, Emma, and their (extensive) families and the English history and daily “mundane chronicles” they all have left behind.
An aside: a letter I just transcribed last night, written by Sir Charles Joshua Smith (bart.) [1800-1831], Emma’s eldest brother and Mary’s eventual husband, had this FABULOUS sentence that just called out to me:
“it is very flattering to one’s vanity to feel that there is some one who cares whether one is alive or dead”
If Charles could know how MUCH _I_ care about them all… his vanity would be HIGHLY flattered. And Sylvia Lewis Tyler must feel that same if she could know the loving care and attention her biographer Alden O’Brien is taking over bringing her own “herstory” to light.
I invite you to read Alden’s own words, and to savor 19th century Bristol, Connecticut by checking out this tale from the vault of the DAR. And should you be in the area of Washington DC, stop by – Alden O’Brien might be there!
The finding of Sylvia’s grave makes for truly SPOOKY reading! Enjoy…
If you missed the installation “A CAPABLE BUSINESSMAN” at London’s Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society, you’re in luck: the internet is able to help.
Back in August 2016, the RHS posted this press release, alerting fans of Capability Brown that the Society’s copy of Brown’s Account Book was going on public display.
Calling Brown “one of the 18th century’s most successful and pioneering businessmen,” the research into this account book has revealed the “astonishing amounts” paid to Brown – and I can say, for Castle Ashby, by one of the Earls of Northampton! (the 9th Earl being uncle to my diarist, Emma Austen)
“Mostly written in his own hand,” Brown’s clientele numbered 125 individuals in this book alone (dating from 1759 until his death in 1783).
The book descended through family, and – though loaned to the Society in the 1950s – has now been donated to the Society.
The display coincided with the (ongoing) 300th Anniversary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
Clicking on the photo above will bring you to the online “copy” of Brown’s Account Book.
The London Parks & Gardens Trust also featured Capability Brown in its newsletter; some articles are found online.
Not having picked up a paint brush in YEARS, I was looking the other day specifically for artists who paint BOTANICALS; that I found one artist’s blog who showed in words and pictures some thought-provoking work was a bonus I had to share with Two Teen Readers.
This particular post is most INTERESTING, because it tells the consequences to one business (a maker of vellum) when the UK government considered going from vellum to paper. Artist Shevaun Doherty lays out her own thoughts on “what might have been”, which gives the post a personal perspective, too:
But it is Doherty’s sharing her art’s triumphs and challenges that I found especially interesting to read about. And seeing botanicals “under construction,” and how the artist must build up a picture is just a thrill to see (for a picture IS worth a thousand words). For instance, this post from March 2015 called the “War of the Roses“. Or this piece on “Challenges! Painting the Laburnum,” which provided much-needed insight into the work-a-day process of painting botanicals.
Two Teens has a large handful of botanical artists in their company, including the artist Margaret Meen – about whom I’ve written. She taught Queen Charlotte and the royal princesses, but also Aunt Emma Smith and my diarist Emma Smith (aka Emma Austen). I hope in the coming months to see a bit more of their work. Or, at least hear about it. My JASNA AGM presentation touches upon Botanicals – for Mr. Elton mentions flowers that Emma Woodhouse had painted. Thanks to Shevaun’s blog, it’s nice to see the art is alive and well.