Kirkus Reviews Real Jane Austen (Byrne)

January 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

Two weeks before publication, those of us without a subscription to Kirkus can read a book’s review. Hard to tell, really, whether the unnamed reviewer of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is enthusiastic or slightly bored.

real austenWhat makes me say that? The very first sentence: “For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae.”

Obsessives?!? {must say, I rather resent such a word}

Long stretches of minutiae?

I wrote of liking the progression through the life of Mary Delany in Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden (highly recommended!); and really appreciated the idea of a focus on objects as a way to talk about Austen’s life (granted, the “facts” are well-known).

That “she [Austen] was more worldly than many might suspect” elicits an ‘of course’ response from me. Even those stuck in a small village had news from the “outside” – via papers, letters, visitors.  But I must hold judgement in the value of Byrne’s supposition that “the author was ‘a very well-travelled woman’…” VERY well-travelled? Certainly not to the degree of the Smiths & Goslings, with their sometimes lengthy trips to the Continent, never mind frequent travel through much of southern England and several branchings-off into Wales. Young Edward Austen (Emma’s eventual husband, and son of James Austen – Jane’s eldest brother) does not seem to have had half the opportunity of young Emma to learn languages and travel abroad.

In general, how does Byrne measure “well-travelled”?

To comments culled from Byrne that Austen “‘very much enjoyed shopping'” and “was ‘a dedicated follower of fashion’…”, I can only add that I see the same evidence in my Two Teens.

Can’t wait to read more about the “phobia” Byrne saddles Austen with, when it comes to childbirth. I think women held no illusions 200-years ago about childbirth, and just the amount of deaths associated with it within one’s circle of acquaintance should have given any woman pause. But does it really come across in the book as a ‘phobia’? Time will tell, once I’ve read it!

Do _I_ expect revelations? Hardly. The primary materials currently in use typically recycle the same “facts”. A lot about Paula Byrne’s new biography will depend on presentation and writing.

I expect my copy in early February…

Advertisements

Permalink 2 Comments

“Dear Hammy”: Mary Hamilton & the Bluestocking Circle

September 23, 2012 at 10:51 am (books, diaries, history, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Some days — after spending all day on the computer at work — I spend all evening on the computer. A research project, such as Smith&Gosling, is exceptionally dependent on FINDING sources. One way is to wait for people to contact me; and I am GRATEFUL for those who have done so. The other way is to search-search-search. Selling sites for letters; library catalogues; published books and their invaluable bibliographies. It was a published book that set me on scent of the letters of young Drummond Smith (Emma’s third brother); the author had cited them and I tracked down the owner. That was four years ago.

So last night I was searching and searching. And somehow turned up the holdings for Mary Hamilton (1756-1816) at the John Rylands University Library.

Mary Hamilton (married in June 1785 to John Dickenson) was a royal governess; friend to Fanny Burney, Joshua Reynolds, the ladies of the Bluestocking circle. How I long to hear more about the content of her sixteen diaries and thousands of letters. Why? Lady Cunliffe (Mary Gosling’s maternal grandmother, who lived until 1814) was in company with many of these same people.

Did Mary Hamilton encounter Lady Cunliffe, her daughters Mary and Eliza?

Although there are internet stories about the sale (via Sotheby’s) and the denial of export to the US (I’m not sure which Library had purchased the archive; I rather suspect the Houghton at Harvard) and the subsequent matching price by John Rylands University Library, I find only veiled hints that scholars are doing research among Mary’s papers, but no hint that there is any plan afoot for the PUBLICATION of her papers. Ah! that would be news! I *love* full printings, big books, multiple volumes. But perhaps that is too much to hope for in this day and age… Especially when academic presses charge so much for the slimmest of books.

Mary Hamilton is being described as a “courtier and diarist” and many headlines call her The Female Pepys! (So doesn’t she deserve the Pepys treatment: to have her full writings published?!)

A quotation writes of Mary’s “keen zest for life, and her intense interest in everything pertaining to it — books, languages, art, travel, politics, people.” Ah! for a Mary Hamilton in my social circle!

Mary was niece to Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Lady Hamilton (the former Emma Hart); she “inadvertently ensnared the heart of the teenage Prince of Wales” while sub-governess to his sisters; and in January 1783 she settled in at 27 Clarges St, off Piccadilly. London, in the 1780s, was the scene for many in the generation prior to Mary and Emma — the grandparent generation, as I often call them.

The biggest “hint” I have about Lady Cunliffe’s social movements is the book Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (Yale 2000). David Mannings has taken note of Sir Joshua’s notebooks: “Lady Cunliffe’s name appears almost every year in Reynolds Pocket Books 1777-89 [yes, I AM assuming this is the correct Lady Cunliffe, and not one of her relatives], usually at eight or nine o’clock, apparently in the evening, on one occasion with a note: ‘Cards & supper.’ Sometimes she arrives with Mrs Vesey, Mrs Shipley or Mrs Boscowen and it is clear these are social calls.” [p156]

I do have evidence that she and the girls knew Sir Joshua, and had run into James Boswell — a letter exists between the two men!

There are sixteen diaries (beginning mid-1776 to 1797; not fully consecutive; the bulk covers 1784); thousands of letters; other manuscripts.

It is in the letters from the Royal Princesses that we see Mary Hamilton addressed as “Dear Hammy”. Those “love letters” from the Prince of Wales are also extant. How exciting! Mary Hamilton also has ties to another Mary: Mary Delany, of The Paper Garden fame! Small-small world.

Vanessa Thorpe, in a 2006 article in The Observer, wrote:

“Fortunately when Hamilton began writing her diary she followed the good advice of her friend Lady Charlotte Finch, the head royal governess, who urged: ‘In your journal pray do not forget particulars about yourself.’ As a result her entries give ‘a remarkably complete picture of the day-to-day lives and preoccupations of fashionable and cultivated 18th-century Londoners,’ said the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council’s government adviser, Dr Harris. Especially interesting to social historians is an unpublished 10-page entry detailing a theft in Hamilton’s household and a quarrel between two servants.”

There is SO MUCH here, that I can only skim the surface in a short blog post. I will end with a BBC radio interview (a short listen: only nine minutes), discussing the importance of the Mary Hamilton Papers.

Is THIS the face of Mary Hamilton?

Permalink Leave a Comment

Mrs Delany writes Letters

August 14, 2012 at 12:04 am (books, goslings and sharpe, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ah, August… when the summer sessions at the university END, so ends the evening hours at the library. Booo!

Today, if they had been open past five, I would have gone to have a look at their collection of Mary Delany books. A new biography published last year had caught my eye, but there were other books I had looked at over the years but never taken out. I really want to see them, but must wait for noontime Saturday when the library’s open 12-5.

This silhouette comes, however, from a book published in 1821!  While I’ve long known about the more recent books, I had no idea anything was published as long ago as that. Might Emma and Mary have read Letters from Mrs Delany? Might Emma mention it in her diary and I just hadn’t been paying attention enough to make note of it?

Today Mrs Delany is remembered because of her Flower Mosaics. Yet a quick perusal of the index in vol. 6 of her letters shows how valuable her published letters could prove to the Smith & Gosling project. Why? Among other things, she evidently banked with Goslings and Sharpe!

For instance,

March 1780, from Mrs Delany: “I hope my last letter and draft on Gosling for L:y Clanbrassil’s christning {sic} money has arrived safe.”

September 1770, to Mrs Delany: “…he has vowed that he will be punctual to a day to the hands of your banker, Mr. Gosling.”

December 1758, from Mrs Delany: “I have indeed set my heart much upon your going to town, and you have a draught on Gosling, etc., which I designed should pay for the Birmingham boxes…”

She therefore, goes back to the very beginnings of the banking firm!

So who in 1756 might “Mrs Gosling” have been — she wouldn’t have been William Gosling’s mother (i.e., Mary’s paternal grandmother), as William’s parents only married in 1763. William’s father, Robert Gosling, though would have been with the firm — having joined in 1754, according to The History of Barclays Bank. At this time the firm was called Gosling, Bennett, and Gosling — for the partners (Sir) Francis Gosling, Samuel Bennett, Robert Gosling.

Could this describe Elizabeth Douce, William’s paternal grandmother? Elizabeth Midwinter, prior to Francis Gosling’s knighthood? (According to The Alderman of the City of London, Francis was knighted on 28 October 1760.)

It’s a curious comment, and a faintly unflattering one:

March 1756, from Mrs Delany: “Wednesday, I spent with Mrs. Donnellan instead of going to Israel in Egypt; and how provoking! she had Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Gosling, and two or three fiddle faddles, so that I might as well have been at the oratorio.”

Mrs Delany was a Handel fan.

The Gosling circle tightens when one finds the Correspondence of Samuel Richardson contains (in vol. 4) letters to Dr and Mrs Delany, Mrs Donnellan, Mrs Dewes (sister to Mrs Delany). Samuel Richardson was the guardian of Miss Midwinter — who became Lady Gosling, wife to Sir Francis.

Oh, my….

It’s eleven at night and I find myself *WISHING* I had all the hours in the day to devote to research – there’s so much here. And how was it that I found Mrs Delany this evening: looking up information on BIO – Biographers International Organization. I’d love to hear from anyone belonging to BIO; I’m thinking of applying.

As midnight looms, I wrap up this post with a listing of the online books relating to Mrs Delany:

Permalink 1 Comment