Finding a Voice: Diane Jacobs on ‘Abigail Adams and her Sisters’

April 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm (books, diaries, europe, history, jasna, people, research) (, , , , , , )

Looking for information about the Leon Levy Center for Biography (CUNY), I came across notice of this past lecture by Diane Jacobs:

adams_jacobs

What leapt off the screen was the idea that Jacobs solved the problem of “finding a voice for each of her protagonists”. TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN, while focused on Emma Smith and Mary Gosling, has the proverbial cast of thousands: Emma had 8 siblings; Mary, 6; in-laws for all those siblings who married add significantly to the count; parents and grandparents, especially ‘Mamma’ – Augusta Smith, and papa William Gosling; and all the relatives, friends, and neighbors who populate the letters and diaries.

Whew! rather like the chorus of a Gilbert & Sullivan extravaganza: “his sisters and his cousins, whom he reckons up by dozens, and his aunts“.

Jacobs also discussed “finding a way to distribute her attention between the one famous and the two unknown sisters” (for the record, Abigail’s sisters were Mary Smith Cranch and Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody). I have the problem of a super-well-represented sister (Emma Austen Leigh), several under-represented siblings, and a dying-for-more protagonist (Lady Smith). I believe there are primary materials out there, as yet “un(re)discovered”: more diaries and certainly more letters.

At least I don’t have to deal with “John Adams, who is not a main character, and yet so profoundly affects everyone else”! Although, I must ‘insinuate’ the historical since the “times” my ladies lived through are so eventful.

Wish I could have been in the audience at one of the several similar lectures Diane Jacobs gave last fall. And wish her book was already completed and out! I’d dearly love to read it. My own brush with Abigail Adams comes from her delightful letters sent home (to those sisters) from England and France. I even used her letters in a Jane Austen-related JASNA lecture.

I’ve a couple blog posts on Abigail Adams:

Check out the new material at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s digital edition of The Adam Papers, or read Abigail’s letters to her sisters!

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How do I love thee: The Browning Letters

February 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm (history, jane austen, news, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A great new website is up and running, featuring the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Baylor and Wellesley have teamed up to present actual images of the letters in their collections. Hurrah, hurray! The letters are “browsable and searchable by date, author, and first line of text.” Other research centers and universities, with Browningana holdings, are being asked to join the initiative — so who knows how much this will grow as time passes.

Wellesley has the original 573 “love” letters (beginning “10 January 1845, with a letter address to ‘dear Miss Barrett’ and continued until a week after their marriage…”).

Here is Elizabeth’s letter dated 11 January 1845 – all eight pages are represented individually; as well as the two sides of the envelope! Scan the page, enlarge the image, move on to a full-screen view – complete with typescript, or have text alone:

Postal historians must be getting their first looks at such as this 11 January 1845 envelope:

The New York Times gives a fine overview in this article by John Williams; but I highly recommend you simply immerse yourself in the world of working with primary materials such as manuscripts (ie, the Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project), diaries, and letters like these. A true gift of a web collection!

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This blog has featured a couple of other “project” websites. The ones that come to mind are:

Happy to hear about projects — ongoing, proposed, or up-and-running — from readers!

UPDATED: How could I forget these sites, which I use but evidently haven’t mentioned on this blog:

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These digitized letters are as authentic online as if you pulled them out of an evelope

 — Darryl Stuhr

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Remember the Ladies!

December 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm (people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Although my interest lies in the letters of ABIGAIL ADAMS during her stays abroad (England, France), when I heard that Vermont Public Radio had Joseph Ellis‘ talk about the family Correspondence, I just had to link to the page and encourage readers to give it a listen!

The actual letters (and much more) are to be found at The Massachusetts Historical Society.

I found this poster when preparing my talk “Austen/Adams” — it’s rather crude, like so many Austen images, that I rather “like” it.

I must say, since it had been years since I read Abigail’s letters: There is much to be learned about England at the time she travelled there and what life was like for Jane Austen. No one notices things like an astute woman; and Mrs Adams wrote so well of her impressions.

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Mrs Adams Hears Handel

May 16, 2010 at 11:12 pm (entertainment) (, , , , , )

In putting finishing touches on a talk that links correspondence of Abigail Adams and Jane Austen, I came across this paragraph that now means so much more than it would have a year or so ago, before investigating the lives of the Knyvett family musicians: Abigail Adams attended the 1785 Handel celebrations at Westminster Abbey.

In 1784, the celebrations had as one of its chief singers Charles Knyvett – the musician who young Emma Smith mentions in her diary decades later (10/21/1820):

Mamma Augusta & I left the Vine to go to Heckfield. We found only Mr & Mrs Shaw Lefevre & Mr & Mrs C. Lefevre there – Old Mr Knyvett was asked to meet us, but did not come

In a letter dated 2 Sept 1785, Mrs Adams writes:

“The most powerful effect of music I every experienced, was at Westminster Abbey. The place itself is well calculated to excite solemnity, not only from its ancient and venerable appearance, but from the dignified dust, marble and monuments which it contains. Last year it was filled up with seats, and an organ loft sufficiently large to contain six hundred musicians, which were collected from this and other countries. This year the music was repeated. It is called the celebration of Handel’s music; the sums collected are deposited, and the income is appropriated to the support of decayed musicians. [I just love her word choice here: decayed…] There were five days set apart for the different performances. I was at the piece called the Messiah, and though a guinea a ticket, I am sure I never spent one with more satisfaction. It is impossible to describe to you the solemnity and dignity of the scene…. I was one continued shudder from the beginning to the end of the performance. Nine thousand pounds were collected, by which you may judge of the rage that prevailed for the entertainment.”

And Charles Knvyett? He would be remembered forever and always as “one of the chief singers”. But: Did he also appear in 1785? I’ll have to revisit notes taken for my Regency World article, dig a bit deeper — and keep my fingers crossed.

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