Selina, Lady Heathcote

March 18, 2018 at 12:15 pm (books, diaries, estates, history, jane austen, people) (, , , , )

A couple of weeks ago I got a used copy (and so reasonably priced that the shipping was only a few pounds less than the book) of The Diary of Selina, Lady Heathcote, January 1841-June 1849.

This is a slim hard-bound book, but it packs a pleasing wallop. It opens with a short introduction, with portraits of both Selina (née Shirley) and Sir William Heathcote.


William was a boyhood friend of James Edward Austen (my diarist Emma Smith’s eventual husband); they remained life-long friends – and the Austen Leighs (the ‘Leigh’ named added after the death of Edward’s great aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot) and their inherited estate Scarlets DO APPEAR in Selina’s diary!

An especially wonderful photograph: Selina’s open diary! Considering how “little” text takes up a manuscript page, the physical size of the diary must be about the size of those I’ve dealt with — which is as tall and as wide as the size of my hand. But the LOCK is, in comparison, SO stout!!

It was published in 1984 by IBM, which has a Hursley connection. Hursley was the Heathcote estate, and the book has a picture of that too. So it’s pleasingly illustrated, including maps showing trips the pair took.

For me, the shock was to read of the consistent ill-health of Sir William. He was older than his young second wife. He had children by his first wife, a daughter of Lord Arden – so related to the Northamptons, Lord Arden being the elder brother of Spencer Perceval, MP. So a couple of connection with my research! I’ve even seen letters (both before and after marriage) by Helena Perceval (also known as Helena Trench) (“French” in the book is a mis-transcription), who also appears in Selina’s diary, as does her daughter Maria.

William Heathcote’s mother was Elizabeth Bigg, who with her sisters – especially Althea Bigg – were great friends to Jane Austen. Mrs. Heathcote was widowed early; Althea Bigg never married. Both appear in Selina Heathcote’s diary. It was their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither (only the sons of the family took the ‘Wither’ name in addition to Bigg), who proposed to Jane Austen – who “famous” rescinded her acceptance after much thought.

Click the photo of the book cover to be whisked away to “The History of Hursley Park,” and see what Dave Key will tell you about the potential visit by Lady Heathcote to “Stratfield Saye [home of the Duke of Wellington] to meet the Queen & Prince Albert.”




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Food for Thought

March 11, 2018 at 9:52 am (books, research) (, , )

In A Guide to Documentary Editing (an online source!), by Mary-Jo Kline and Susan Holbrook Perdue, a chapter concerns “Transcribing the Source Text”. With few exceptions, I have done all transcribing myself — from tiny diaries the size of my hand to letters crossed so densely that deciphering became a real struggle.

As you might imagine, work done in the spring months of 2007 – working at the Archives (mainly, the Hampshire Record Office) with the actual documents – all the names and places were new; and Emma’s diaries (for example) mention a literal “community” of so many different people. A true “cast of thousands”.

But the one thing I’ve always been quite decided on: transcribe what you see. So I include crossings out as word(s) crossed out, insertions with an indication of what words were inserted; and I keep track of the organization on the page: be it paragraphing, pagination, crossed sections or additional correspondents on the same letter.

Obviously, I’ve gotten to know the “players” far better than I did then (ie, ten years ago).

So well do I know the main cast of characters, when someone once contacted me about a letter written to “Dear Ivy” I _really_ had no clue who the recipient might be. The letter existed only in transcription, and that done many years before, no access to the original letter by the transcriber (never mind me).

Only when another letter turned up, by which time, having read the contents, did the shoe drop: Ivy was actually Liz – which WAS a known person: Lady Elizabeth Compton. But, not knowing the people, the transcriber took the descending stroke of the last letter as a ‘y’ and the rest morphed into Ivy.

Another letter carries a similar story. This one WAS present in manuscript, but the name of the signature had been guessed at. The moment I saw the signature, the name told me exactly who it was: The woman who wished (with all her heart) that Maria Smith would consent to the marriage proposal of the woman’s son. (Which she did NOT do.)

And names are probably the HARDEST part of transcribing. A word, even if misspelled in the original, can be puzzled out; a name … unless you can track it down, an unknown name remains the longest with a question mark next to it.

signature_mary austen

So what REALLY grabbed my attention in “Documentary Editing” was the following section, before which was a discussion of keeping track of how the transcription is to be accomplished so that all transcribers do the work with the same constructs in place:

Theoretical as well as practical considerations argue for a careful record of transcription methods. Even solo editors responsible for their own transcribing are well advised to keep such a log, for transcribing sources is a learning process. As the editor-transcriber moves through the collection, he or she will inevitably learn to recognize meaning in patterns of inscription that earlier seemed meaningless or baffling. Only by keeping track of their hard-won knowledge of what matters and how it is to be translated can editors hope to be consistent or accurate. Drawing on her experience as the editor of Mary Shelley’s letters, Betty T. Bennett has suggested that “the transcription of the letters by the editor” be considered a “requisite standard” for all editors of correspondence. She points out that “the act of transcribing the letters may be one of the most valuable tools the editor has for reviewing the subject. In transcribing word after word, one comes as close to the act of writing the letters as possible and can consider words as they unfold into a thought” (“The Editor of Letters as Critic: A Denial of Blameless Neutrality,” 217).

That last section REALLY speaks to me! I’ve long said I prefer to _do_ the transcribing (which means a literal backlog of diaries and letters to do), but what a poetic way to think: that in transcribing one is close to “the act of writing the letters”.

Must admit, I’ve usually had thoughts (especially in those I struggled to decipher) more along the lines of how did they read this letter; must have been a sunny day… Or they handed it off to someone with good eyesight!

I’m luckier than most, as only in the diaries of Charles Joshua Smith (Emma’s brother, Mary’s husband) have I come across erratic spelling, contracted names and general words. Thankfully, I had just transcribed his wife’s diaries – so I had learned a lot about the family, their business, their concerns, their friends and neighbors.


Mary Smith’s neat hand

Otherwise, letters carry the usual: would, could, should, with the first letter and a superscripted (often underlined) ending ‘d’; dear often followed the same rule. Xtian for Christian. You get the drift.

One thing that struck me, back in 2007: the usage by this English family of what I (an American) would think of as “American” spelling: neighbor rather than neighbour, for instance. But the speller and the auto-correct were not fans of words like ‘chearful’ (I got into the habit of [sic] just in case the auto-correction wasn’t caught AND it told me NOT to correct it, when I later read thru the text).

This chapter, “Documentary Editing,” also mentions something of interest to Jane Austen and her editor R.W. Chapman: “For a compelling discussion of the need to remember the effect of punctuation on oral patterns, see Kathryn Sutherland’s review of Chapman’s editions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.” This followed a section on being attentive to prior-century usage, words, phrasing, creative spellings, etc. and the need NOT to “correct” what may in fact NOT be a “mistake.” [If I find more on Sutherland’s ‘review’, I’ll put up a link.]



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Zoffany’s Daughter

February 27, 2018 at 8:37 am (books, people, portraits and paintings) (, , )

A reader of my Ladies of Llangollen blog brought to my attention a new book published in Australia and the UK: Zoffany’s Daughter: Love and Treachery on a Small Island, by Prof. Stephen Foster. She described it as, “quite unusual, as it combines History, Fact, and Fiction.”


The book’s website gives an enticing introduction: “2nd July 1825: Cecilia Zoffany, daughter of a famous artist, flees to the island of Guernsey with her two young daughters, one of them disguised as a boy. Alone and distressed, the beautiful stranger seeks the help of locals in a desperate attempt to retain the custody of her children. Her estranged husband, a London clergyman, follows close behind.

Cecilia Horne is the second daughter of famed artist, Johan Zoffany. Born in 1780, she married the Rev. Thomas Horne on 27 June 1799; Zoffany painted a portrait of his father (another Rev. Thomas Horne). After eight children, the couple separated in 1821. Of course, at the time, British law gave custody of children to the father.

  • read a review, at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  • the book’s page
  • The Ladies Monthly Museum magazine, features news of the trial of “Mrs. Cecilia Zoffany, wife of Mr. Horne”
  • Investigate the “Rice Portrait,” possibly illustrating the young Jane Austen, which was once believed to have been painted by Zoffany

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My Dear Hamy

February 16, 2018 at 12:55 pm (books, british royalty) (, , , )

This book was reviewed in the latest JASNA News (the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America) by Susan Allen Ford (the editor of Persuasions, the journal of JASNA); I’ve linked the review at the bottom, under “EXTRAS”.

My copy came via The National Archives bookshop; the author’s website is also a source for mail order. Other avenues may tell you the book is “unavailable” (, for instance).

My Dear Hamy

My Dear Hamy, by Martin Thomas, is the tale of Anne Hayman – the one-time sub-governess to Princess Charlotte of Wales. Anne Hayman’s longer role was as Privy Purse to Princess Caroline.

My Dear Hamy is a LARGE book – over 700 pages.

From the author’s website:

“This book is the story of the lives of three feisty women – Caroline and Charlotte, of the blood royal, and Anne herself, the common sensed commoner. The world was rocking on its axis as Napoleon led the French into war with Britain and Europe. But as her husband progressed from mistress to mistress and squandered a fortune on gambling and excess, Caroline’s household too rocked with hushed up scandals and indiscretions.”

Martin Thomas had access to letters written by Hayman, as well as documents by (and about) the Princess of Wales. In addition, Thomas lives in the Welsh house first occupied by Hayman in the early 19th century. That coincidence sparked his research!

I’m in the midst of reading – and enjoying – My Dear Hamy.

You can get a taste of the book by reading excerpts on the author’s site. One current online review is by Alistair Lexden.

A bit of judicious editing could have tightened the narrative, and eradicated the more egregious typos. As well, some analysis of the quoted passages from letters would have better guided the reader and, perhaps, kept the author from jumping to conclusions (without considering all possibilities) about the quite-intricate manoeuvering happening within the circle of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Princess Caroline’s story is an oft-told one, but Hayman’s life – and her position within the Princess’ household – is an area of research which is most welcome.



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Add Jane Austen, and Ka-ching

January 7, 2018 at 8:17 pm (books, jane austen, people) (, , )

Over the weekend, looking for books once owned by Lady Frances Compton – the sister of the 1st Marquess of Northampton (Emma’s uncle), I found SEVERAL booksellers who added the JANE AUSTEN name to their posts. My Question is: WHY??

bookplate_Lady Frances

Here is Lady Frances’ bookplate. She was the daughter of an earl, and a formidable woman by the time I meet her, in the 1790s. She lived much of her early and later years in Switzerland. The early years, because her father had settled there after spending a fortune in trying to secure a parliamentary seat. The later years, it was obvious that she loved her Swiss surroundings.

I have never seen proof of any relationship between the sister of Mrs. Chute of The Vine, i.e., Lady Northampton herself, with the Austens. Her sister-in-law is even one remove farther away. So it was with EXTREME interest that I read some of these books descriptions . . . and prices.

On the low scale, of rhetoric as well as price, is an offer by Between the Covers, Rare Books, Inc:

  • Robert Bloomfield, Wildflowers; or, Pastoral and Local Poetry (1806)

“First edition. Contemporary speckled calf ruled, and spine heavily gilt. Spine rubbed, and some loss of leather at the corners, a handsome very good copy. Engraved bookplate of Lady Frances Compton on the front pastedown. Lady Frances was a friend of the Austen family and frequently visited and dined with them.” [my emphasis]

The asking price for this volume: $375

Another seller, selling an 1812 copy, without any ‘Austen’ mention is selling it for $120.

At the opposite end of the scale, with some of the most explosive, out-on-a-limb speculations, is this on offer by Arroyo Seco Books:

  • Antony Ashley Cooper [3rd Earl Shaftsbury], Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, with a Collection of Letters, 3 vols. (1790)

“Basil [Basel]: J J Tourneisen / J L Legrand, 1790. Reprint . Speckled Calf / Boards. Very Good +. 8 1/2″ Tall. (Viii), 414; (Vi), 367; (Viii), 340, + Long Index To All Volumes At End. Published 1790. Original Or Very Early Spotted Calf, 6 Spine Compartments With Two Morocco Labels On Each Volume, Gilt Decorations And Borders On Spine, Over Marbled Paper Covered Boards, Spotted Calf Tips, Light Blue Endpapers. Lightly Used, Single 1/8″ Deep X 3/16” Long Chip At Top Of Spines Of Vols 2 And 3, Hinges Solid. Bookplates Of Lady Frances Compton; She Is Noted As A Visitor To The Household By Jane Austen’s Father In The Early 1790’S. An Interesting Association As There Is Speculation That Jane Austen Used Shaftesbury As A Source For Her Ideas Of Morality. Although There Is No Evidence That Austen Had Access To A Copy Of Shaftesbury, It Is Possible That She Discussed The Ideas With Lady Compton, Or Even That This Particular Set Was Made Accesible To Her.” [my emphasis]

The asking price for this set: $2,000

Although not quite as handsome along the spine, another 3-volume set currently for sale, without the Austen wishful thinking, is selling for $175.

signature_lady frances compton

What _I_ would dearly love to hear is, When Lady Frances dined with the Austens, and Where she sat down with Jane Austen to discuss ideas

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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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Lenborough Manor & Goslings Bank

November 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm (estates, goslings and sharpe, people, research) (, , , )

The Private Letters of Edward Gibbon (a book) has mention of Goslings Bank (ie, in relation to Lenborough Manor); vol 2 has 29 mentions of GOSLING!

THIS is the most delicious:

“I do not thank you for standing between me and Gosling, you would despise my thanks. I know your sentiments, and you are not ignorant of mine. But the step on your side was necessary: even with your security Gosling has not done the thing in a graceful way, and even the letter which informs me that he will honour M. de Lessert’s draught is written with unnecessary pertness. In a post or two I shall probably hear the payment acknowledged from Paris. The Goose hopes he shall soon be reimbursed: so do I likewise…”

(May 1784), p. 104 vol 2.

The “pert Goose” probably would have been William Gosling’s father, Robert Gosling (who died in January 1794); although Sir Francis Gosling is also possible. The two were banking partners. The firm typically had a third, non-family, member – Bennett, Clive, and Sharpe, being three such partners (at different times)

BUT: Oh! for a peek at that pert letter from 1784!!!

See also p. 123 – where he bemoans the loss of Lenborough – and Gosling’s “balance neatly cyphered and summed”. Gibbon (prior to this page) mentions a sum or interest in arrears: so he may not be the best client! See also p. 126 – he claims to have paid Gosling interest, but gotten no ‘rent from the estate’.

It is useful to note that YALE has items relating to the “Sale of Lenborough Manor“. Listed among the correspondents IS Robert Gosling. So if Gibbon saved the 1784 letter, it potentially could be among these items.

Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon

In 1911, J. Pierpont Morgan purchased a small group of “letters, bills, and documents,” including a signed bond dated 1766. Gibbon’s bond secured £30,000 – an ASTOUNDING sum! “The loan payments are to be due every six months until 15 February 1771, with interest at the rate of £4 and 10 shillings per £100. Signed “Edward Gibbon” and “Edward Gibbon Junior,” and with their seals.”

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Visiting 11 Jane Austen Locations

October 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, travel) (, , )

My surprise came from seeing among the “11 Jane Austen Locations in the U.K. to Visit on Your Next Reading-Inspired Adventure” (a 2015 article) the one large estate most closely related to my Smith & Gosling research: Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire.

Castle Ashby was (and still is) the seat of the Marquess of Northampton. In Emma Austen’s youth this was “Uncle Northampton,” the 9th Earl and 1st Marquess of Northampton; the title then devolved to Emma’s cousin (the 1st Marquess’ only son), Spencer Compton – who usually appears in these blog posts under the title he carried while his father was still alive, Lord Compton. Compton married Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane. Both of them pop up in many Two Teens in the Time of Austen posts.

I visited the archives at Ashby in 2014, and (of course) have many of Emma’s “Castle Ashby” impressions and stories at my finger tips.

The Castle Ashby Gardens are open to the public, but the house is a private residence. So why include it on a to-do list of houses to visit for Jane Austen fans? Its appearance in an issue of Country Life holds the key.

Mansfield Park

Some sites, like Plymouth’s Saltram House, are on the list because of films.

The Jane Austen Center in Bath is a given, as one of the few “museums” dedicated to the author; ditto the Jane Austen’s House Museum and its neighbor Chawton House.

Stoneleigh Abbey has a “Leigh” family connection (the “Leigh” of the Leigh-Perrots, Mrs. Austen’s brother and sister-in-law), which Stoneleigh exploits quite a bit in tourist advertising and tours. Mrs. Austen’s letter home chatters on in great detail about the Austen visit to Stoneleigh in 1806.

  • NB: Leigh family papers at the Huntington Library (California) is completely online, in a very useful digital collection.

Also on Emma Oulton’s “11 Jane Austen sites” list (of course) is Austen’s grave, inside Winchester Cathedral.

Some sites come straight from the books: Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) mentions “the Island”, which to her indicates the Isle of Wight (much as Emma Austen and Lady Smith call London “Town”). Emma Woodhouse (Emma) visits Box Hill – a “vista” that a kind friend drove me to experience for myself in October 2016. Also on the list, Gretna Green – although Lydia Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) did not cross the border into Scotland, but remained (unmarried…) somewhere in London.

Then, the realm of “inspiration” and Oulton’s “must visit” list takes a bit of an unexpected turn: Tintern Abbey for its gothic inspiration. Chatsworth more for its supposed “Pemberley” inspiration than its film location persona. And this is where and how CASTLE ASHBY appears. All thanks to a Country Life article that got picked up by The Telegraph in 2015.

Ashby’s archivist had mentioned to me in 2014 that some Jane Austen scholar had “a theory about Ashby,” but it wasn’t until The Telegraph article got emailed that I tracked down the origin article. Relooking for this blog post, I found one blogger’s thoughts to be RIGHT ON target when it comes to writing and what could be behind any writer’s “inspiration”.

Mansfield Park2

Margaret C. Sullivan’sWill Jane Austen’s Real Inspiration Please Stand Up” specifically addresses issues concerning a writer’s “inspiration” and, obliquely, the theory Dr. Robert Clark (University of East Anglia) had set in motion.

Clark’s rationale is the genealogy of “Uncle Northampton” and Spencer Perceval, the member for Northampton who became Prime Minister and who has gone down in history as the only British Prime Minister assassinated while in office.

The Percevals (Spencer and his elder brother Lord Arden) were cousins of Lord Northampton. Lady Northampton (Emma’s aunt) was the eldest sister of Eliza Chute of The Vine; the Chutes were neighbors of the Austens – ergo: six degrees of separation and Jane Austen’s “inspiration” for Mansfield Park (the estate) was (fanfare, please: ta-da!) Castle Ashby.

You are invited to seek out Clark’s Country Life article (I do have an emailable PDF, if you’re really desperate; contact info under “About the Author” link); the Telegraph article can be found online (see next link).

But, first, several of Sullivan’s blog post thoughts:

  • “When I saw this article in the Telegraph …, I rolled my eyes a bit and prepared myself for silliness. We’ve had so much of this sort of thing: the Real Mr. Darcy, the Real Pemberley, etc., and it’s becoming tiresome…”
  • “I think it’s rare for writers, especially writers of Jane Austen’s genius, to be so literal about their inspiration…. Writers get inspiration from all over—the littlest thing to the biggest— … used however we need them to fit the plot.”
  • “tiresome … when five thousand Internet listicle sites pick it up like Moses brought it down from the mountain, and all our well-meaning friends send us links saying, ‘DID YOU SEE THIS?'”

I invite you to read Sullivan’s post in its entirety, for she makes some excellent points about Austen and Mansfield Park.

[By the way, Cottesbrook – which you’ll see in the comments section, is ALSO related to the Smiths & Goslings – home of the Langham family, relations of Elizabeth Gosling’s husband Langham Christie.]

My concern with Clark’s theory is less about “inspiration” and more about the veracity and depth of his familial research. Entitled, “Is this the Real Mansfield Park?” the sub-header entices Country Life readers by asking: “‘Are there hedgerows in Northamptonshire?Robert Clark has found compelling evidence to identify the country house on which Jane Austen based her novel Mansfield Park and to look at it in a new light.” A smaller-font teaser between paragraphs then asks, “Did the political and family connections of Castle Ashby draw Jane Austen to immortalize it in Mansfield Park?

Anyone who has read Mansfield Park will guess why Austen wanted to know if she could write about Hedgerows in the course of the novel. Austen’s query to Cassandra (letter of 29 Jan 1813) was, “If you c:d discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of hedgerows, I sh:d be glad again.”

As I re-read Country Life, from their 2 September 2015 issue, these annoyances pop out:

  • Elizabeth Chute – this is more correctly applied to William Wiggett Chute’s wife. William Wiggett inherited The Vine after the deaths of brothers William and Thomas Chute, but only took possession of the Hampshire estate [there was also a Norfolk estate, as well] after the death of William’s widow ELIZA Chute. She may have been born an Elizabeth, but it is not the name she (or Claire Tomalin, in her Jane Austen biography, which the article cites) used.
  • Who the hell is “James Henry Austen-Leigh”? Typo or misprint is no excuse. The man’s name was James EDWARD Austen Leigh (and went by ‘Edward’). Austen scholars often abbreviate the Austen, and contract him to ‘JEAL’. So many writers seem unable to check their sources over James Austen and his son James Edward Austen (Leigh). [NB: Edward married my diarist Emma Smith]
  • The next section really is egregious: “Perhaps Austen-Leigh exaggerated [the intimacy of the Chutes and Percevals in his book on the Vine Hunt], as his wife was descended from another sister … and he wanted to affirm his kinship with the great, but the fact that he named two of his children — Spencer Austen and Edward Compton Austen — to commemorate the family relationships must lend weight to the suggestion….”

Emma had a brother Spencer, as well as cousin ‘Spencer Compton’. The two Compton siblings – Lord Compton and Lady Elizabeth Compton – were the ONLY first cousins the Smiths had. Clark’s concept of Edward Austen wishing to “affirm” kinship “with the great” might be altered if Clark had noted that Spencer Perceval had been William Chute’s fag at Harrow.

The Telegraph article by Hannah Furness brings other issues:

  • “Jane Austen’s fictional country house was based on the real-­life Castle Ashby, in Northamptonshire, the home of the family of Spencer Perceval.” [to me this sounds like Ashby was the Perceval seat; not so.]

Reactions of friends at the time of the Telegraph article, rather echoed the “letters to the editor”; they included:

  • “It’s a while since I read MP, but I got the impression that the house was quite contemporary, fairly recently built.  …. Castle Ashby is Elizabethan, and seems to me to be much grander than MP.
  • “Methinks that too many people are reading/trying to read too many things into not very much.”

My own response took the form of a (never published) Letter to the Editor:

Why Jane Austen should require “models” for the creation of characters or estates is a question few address; besides, it is fun to pose “what ifs” (“Sleuth’s trail to the heart and home of an Austen classic”, Sept 3).

I research the very persons Prof. Clark theorizes about: Eliza Chute’s family, into which James Edward Austen married on 16 December 1828. I agree with Prof. Richards (letters, Sept 11) that Castle Ashby and its Spencer Perceval connection seems too loose a thread for Austen to have woven its connotations into Mansfield Park. In the midst of re-reading Nelson’s Purse (Martyn Downer, 2004) as this story broke, I have an alternative suggestion from the same family: Swarland, owned by Alexander Davison. His involvement with Admiral Horatio Nelson; the family unit of Edmund and Fanny (Nelson’s father and estranged wife) against the mesmerizing newcomer; and a strong dose of Church, Navy, Portsmouth, and the West Indies all fall within Austen’s story.

Swarland was a neo-Palladian house, mid-eighteenth-century built, with substantial parkland – including a ha-ha and extensive walks á la Sotherton. It serves for house, grounds, and the extra-textural fare Clark seeks for the “cognoscenti reader”. Far north if left in situ (Northumberland), Swarland could have precipitated Jane Austen’s questions about hedgerows and Northamptonshire, if she prepared to “relocate” the action to a southerly county with a similar name.

See, even _I_ can play the game!

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American Duchess: Dressmaking!

September 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm (books, fashion, history, research) (, , , , )

Many of you will already be familiar with “American Duchess” for their “historical footwear” (I’m in love with their new “Regency” shoe, called Dashwood), or for the American Duchess blog on “Historical Costuming“. Those of you who do your own hand-sewn costumes, or those who WANT to begin such a project, will be happy with a new book by Lauren Stowell (“American Duchess”) and Abby Cox.


Click the book’s cover to see the “preview” at Amazon.

Lauren and Abby have a well-thought-out series of “Georgian Gowns”. The Amazon preview gives the pages that cover “Historic stitches and how to sew them.” The photos that accompany this section show the detail clearly.

From the table of contents, other sections cover gowns:

  • The English Gown, 1740s
  • The Sacque Gown, 1760s-1770s
  • The Italian Gown, 1780s-1790s
  • The Round Gown, 1790s

Looking at the sub-categories, topics covered include items like “1740s Cap”; “1760s Undies – Side Hoops”; “1760s Ribbon Choker Necklace”; “1780s Poufs and Bows”; “Learning to Love Linen”; “1790s The ‘Frog’ Reticule”.

_I_ am more impressed with books that narrow the focus of research. Heaven forbid a brief book on an all-encompassing idea of “European Men and Women’s Fashions, 17th to 21st Centuries”.

So this book gets a BIG thumbs up for a nice number of pages (240 pages) and a tight focus that makes it a true “Guide to Eighteenth Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them With Style“.

Dare we hope that there will be further entries, making a series of Dressmaking Guides?!? Fingers crossed!!

Book release date is 21 November 2017! The video has “news” about MANY of their upcoming plans – watch it to find out more…. They also promise more videos as the weeks pass, counting down to November.

(note that Lauren & Abby show the cover, above; rather than the picture on Amazon’s website. Barnes & Noble have the correct cover. Be advised: the book images are “reversed” in the video.)

the ladies favoriteThe Ladies and their “favorite gown to work on”

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New Matrimonial Ladder (c1853)

September 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , )

In search of images by artist Thomas Onwhyn (c1814-1886), also known as Samuel Weller (under which name he did “illegitimate” illustrations of works by Charles Dickens), I came across a wonderful blog post at BOOKTRYST. Onwhyn illustrated his own version of a book I fell in love with when first coming across The Matrimonial Ladder (1825).

new matrimonial ladder_possession

Onwhyn’s version – called (surprise) A New Matrimonial Ladder – of the “tale” has charm, and you see above his deft handing of scenery (many of his drawings were published by Rock & Co., London), with the cliffs in the background. It is a hard choice – like choosing between the prettiness of Brock or the allure of Hugh Thomson when discussing illustrations of Jane Austen novels.


The drawings of “M.E.” (above) have much in common with such delightful books as Mrs. Hurst Dancing (drawings of Diana Sperling) or A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House (drawings of Mary Yelloly).

I think you will enjoy BOTH (online) “books”.

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