Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dish of Tea and a Sponge Cake

I apologise for the sadly-neglected nature of my poor little blog of late, but I couldn't let such an occasion as the 235th birthday of Miss Jane Austen pass unremarked!

In a letter to Cassandra Austen dated 18th December 1798, immediately after Jane Austen's 23rd birthday, she made passing reference to her birthday.

I am sincerely rejoiced however that I ever was born, 
since it has been the means of procuring him (her nephew George) a dish of Tea.

I'd like to invite you all today to join me in a celebration of Jane Austen's birthday, but in my opinion a dish of Tea alone will not suffice. This great lady deserves a birthday cake, though such a thing was not common practice at the time. However, as she wrote in a letter in 1808,

You know how interesting the purchase 
of a sponge-cake is to me.

The purchase of prepared food, especially cakes, would have been rare indeed for a family of women of limited means, and most baking would have been made at home.

The term "sponge" had only recently begun to be applied to a light-textured cake. As Maggie Lane in Jane Austen and Food tells us,

...she referred, of course, not to the Victoria sandwich we often call sponge but to the true fatless sponge-cake, made with just flour, eggs and sugar. Raising powder was not available before the 1850s, so the lightness of a sponge had to come from the amount of air that could be beaten into the mixture. Fortunately, labour was cheap and uncomplaining.
Jane Austen and Food, page 68

Since a good sponge-cake, according to Hannah Glasse in 1747, should be beaten for an hour, it's not hard to see why the purchase of such a cake, without the repetitive strain-inducing labour, should be such a pleasant prospect.

Here, then, is a recipe for a sponge-cake from Maria Eliza Rundell's 1806 book, A New System of Domestic Cookery.

Image courtesy of  Feeding America

Spunge Cake
Weigh ten eggs, and their weight in very fine sugar, and that of six in flour; beat the yolks with the flour and the whites alone, to a very stiff froth; then by degrees mix the whites and the flour with the other ingredients, and beat them well half an hour. Bake in a quick oven an hour. 

I don't think Jane Austen would be too impressed if I added 235 birthday candles, however. ;)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

We all have opinions and impressions of the new fashion for beefing up Jane Austen's works with the addition of zombies, vampires, sea monsters and murders. Some love it, some loathe it; some can't understand why Jane Austen and her works still inspire so much interest. There are those who think it sacrilege to have zombies shambling through Meryton, and others who can't stand the fact that there are frocks and frock coats amidst their violence.

Whatever your opinion, there's no denying that this is the trend of the moment. So without further ado, I give you the height of silliness - Jane Austen's Fight Club.

What do you think of the current craze?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Shades of Chawton

Hi all, this here is my first ever #FridayFlash (and probably my last - don't know how I had time to do this one!)

Although it's my #FridayFlash debut, I'm not asking you to take it easy on me; be honest, please, especially if you think it's overly verbose! I can take it. I'm a big girl.

And so I give you;

The Shades of Chawton

They walk through the empty rooms and I watch them. Most of them have insipid, dilute emotions, like muddy puddles. They seem barely alive.
    Others have emotions that quiver from their skin, but the colours are unpleasant, disturbing. Saffron-yellow curiosity burns across some; avarice oozes from others, a peculiar greeny-brown shade that I find I cannot look at for too long. I feel it sucking at me. 
    They all stop at the table. The avaricious ones try to touch it, leaning just so far across the yielding red-rope, that barrier that is no barrier at all but to polite society. The avaricious ones are not of polite society. That little lean, that reach of the fingers, the casual glance for potential observers; all of these offend me. I stay at the back of the room and watch, motionless. I will not gift them even an inkling of my presence. 
    Then there are the dramatics; those who visit this place as though they are making a pilgrimage. Red and blue ripple across their surfaces, alternating and undulating, as their focus veers from suppressed emotion to a desire to inhale history. They would never attempt to touch the table, no; that would be sacrilege, but they will stand, and gaze, and hope to be observed by other dramatics as they too stand, and gaze, and wonder. 
    When they have left for the night, and the house settles its skirts with a few quiet moans, then I return to my table, and I look deeply, penetratingly at the crack that runs along it now, not quite bisecting it. I push all my focus onto it, the world shrinking down to the span of a fault in a piece of polished wood; then I am in the crack, my favourite place, spreading out and filling it. We fit each other perfectly. I lie there all night, snug, feeling the echo of layer upon layer of crafted words rest on top of me like so many goosedown quilts. 
    Tonight as I was drifting idly through the spectral strata of layered words I was disturbed by a noise. After all this time I know all the common noises; the settling in summer, the expanding creak during the day; the moans of complaint in winter; the rattle of the panes. I knew this sound, too. It was the complaint of the door to this room as it opened. The house had been vacated at least an hour previously; who could this be? 
    The shape of a woman grew visible. I couldn't make out her features, yet I recognised her. She was one of the visitors from earlier, a quiet respectful one. Her emotions had glowed a pale clear blue, quite pleasant to behold. 
    As she approached the table, my table, her colour changed. Blue blurred towards amber, glowing and hot. I knew it as the colour of love, though I seldom witnessed it these days. I stared, confounded at the change. 
    She walked quickly towards the table, clambered over the faded red rope, and stared down at it. At me. She extended a hand towards us, further, further - then froze. I gazed at her in perplexity. She hadn't looked like a table-toucher, yet here she was. 
    'I'm sorry,' she said.  Startled, I expanded slightly in the crack. The old table protested around me. Could she see me? Did she know I was there? 
    'I know I shouldn't,' she continued. 'No-one is supposed to touch your table, but I feel such a need to tell you what you mean. To me. Your words...'
    Ah. My words. They mean much to me, too. I've seen the odd purple-hued devotee before. They enter this house lightly, reverently, as though it were a shrine. Which, in a peculiar way, I suppose it is. But they are never touchers. They, like I, are sticklers for the rules of society. 
    The woman's hand, motionless for several moments, had begun to shake. 
    'I'm sorry,' she said again, before her hand resumed its journey towards the surface of my table. Her amber glow grew even brighter, lighting up her face. She was not beautiful by any means, but her face was interesting, animated. Much as my own was described during my lifetime.  
    Shocked, I remained motionless, watching as her fingers reached the table and began lightly caressing the grain, tracing the edges, and finally making their way to the crack. My crack. I knew I should leave, remove to my corner, but I was lulled by her light and her love. One finger traced lightly all along the fault, sensuously, and I shivered. Growing bolder, she stepped nearer still and splayed her fingers all along the crack, fingertips probing it and me, while her thumbs hovered. She drew her hands away from each other, feeling her way all along the rift in the wood as though it were an engraved message on a tombstone. She probed, and quested, and inspected all of it, her fingers thrumming over my consciousness as she did so. 
    'Miss Jane Austen, I want to thank you,' she murmured. I quivered with surprise at her correct form of address, I have heard it so seldom in recent decades.
    'Thank you for living. Thank you for writing. And thank you for being you.'
    That was it. Nothing flowery. She did not read me a poem, or rave about a character, or quote me to myself. I admired her dignity. I forgave her. I made a decision.
    I reached out my consciousness, drew up my energies. I focused, seeing and feeling each of her fingertips; and I touched her. Just a caress, a delicate sweep across her nerve endings. She startled, but did not remove her fingers immediately. Instead she inhaled, one two; then exhaled, three four; then lifted her hands slowly to her face and put her fingers to her mouth, like a child who has received a hurt. 
    Or a gift.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One more connection with Ireland

Julie Wakefield has written one more blog post on Jane Austen's connections with Ireland, which I link to directly here because it is so darn good!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Tribute to Me? ;)

Just a quick aside to point out that the lovely Julie Wakefield (@austenonly) continued on with her guest post theme with a little extra aside that relates to Ireland.

You can read it here:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Guest post from Austenonly - Jane Austen and the Theatre

I'm so excited about this! The wonderful, erudite and incredibly informed Julie Wakefield (@austenonly), who produces the world's best blog on Jane Austen, has kindly agreed to do a guest post for me.  It is on the topic of Jane Austen's attitude toward theatre and private theatricals, in light of Fanny Price's reactions in Mansfield Park.  Her post is below, continuing on austenonly:

Jane has very kindly asked me to prepare a guest blog post on the topic of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park, and to try and explain why Fanny’s censorious attitude towards them seems to have been in complete contradiction to that of her creator, Jane Austen.

It is true that Jane Austen loved the theatre. Every time she visited London and her brother Henry she seized every chance she could to see professional performances. She had her favourite actors and actresses and was a keen but cool critic of their performances. Eliza O Neil of Ireland was a favourite:

We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella... She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge delightfully.

(See letter from Jane Austen to Anna Austen dated 29th November 1814)

As was Dorothea Jordan. She was most miffed to have missed the opportunity of seeing Mrs Siddons in 1811:

I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. She did act on Monday but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would all the places and all the thought of it were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance and could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.
( letter to Cassandra Austen of the 25th April 1811)

Her early works have numerous theatrical and farcical elements, evidence of her wide reading of the 18th century theatrical cannon. For example, in Love and Freindship (sic) we find one of the most famous phrases in the Juvenilia:

"We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”

Now read the rest of the post on austenonly

Friday, April 30, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens

This is going to be a very short post. I would just like to share with you all my current favourite guilty pleasure - Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens.

Never mind zombies, sea monsters and mummies, aliens are where it's at. Published twice weekly on a website, this is not only a clever spin on a Jane Austen classic, it's also a jolly good sequel in its own right. The writer, the "Real Mrs Darcy", @RealMrsDarcy on Twitter, describes it as

"Not so much Pride and Prejudice's sequel as its bastard offspring following a drunken one-night stand with the X-files."

I couldn't possibly describe it any better than that.

The Real Mrs Darcy also produces occasional YouTuberances to promote said bastardy, the latest of which is here. I defy you not to laugh yourself into a state of the vapours. When you've recovered, do yourself a favour and read some of Mrs Darcy vs. The Aliens. You won't regret it. Probably.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Twavoca - a local tweet-up for local tweeple

And in other news, I suggested a small local tweet-up last week, in Avoca Rathcoole. Several great twitter buddies turned up, all fellow Inkwell writers, and we had a jolly good natter.

There's a small piece about it here on A Kilcullen Diary. In the photo, left to right, are @mduffywriter , @Strictlyinkblot , @hotcrossmum (and her children), @aurora111 and me, @janetravers

Many thanks to @KilcullenDiary for putting this piece on his blog.

Catharsis for Stephanie Butland

The lovely Stephanie Butland (@bahtocancer on Twitter) put the call out a couple of weeks ago for someone to do a short piece on writing as catharsis.

Now, since my entire writing career (such as it is) came about from the search for catharsis, I readily agreed to bang out 500 words for her. And here it is, on her blog: please read and enjoy!

Comments welcome, as ever. :)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Batteries Not Included

A number of years ago my loving husband returned from a business trip with a little present for me. It was a slender, hardback book with a prettily garlanded cover, titled "Pride and Promiscuity" by Arielle Eckstut.

"Pride and Promiscuity" purports, jokingly, to be a collection of the lost sex scenes from Jane Austen's novels; scenes she had been forced to excise by her prudish publishers. In my best Victorian manner I was not amused, but I read it anyway. Because, you know, my husband would have been offended if I hadn't. And for research. Of course.

"Pride and Promiscuity" is actually much better than it sounds. It is written by a true Austen devotee, and Eckstut's writing perfectly imitates Jane Austen's own style. It's really quite good fun.

One or two of the chapters in the book seemed more far-fetched than others, however; particularly "Jane at Netherfield", during which Jane Bennet, while staying at Netherfield, is visited during the night by both Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. Their object is to ascertain whether Jane would be able to "satisfy" their brother, should they marry. I was greatly amused by the unlikeliness of the following passage:

At one point their introduction of a curiously-shaped carved wooden object into the evening's diversions aroused the most strenuous expressions of concern from Jane; but her objections were quickly silenced by the application of the experienced and skillful hands of Mrs Hurst.

Oh honestly, thought I, a wooden dildo? In Regency times? Ridiculous.

How naive am I? The lovely Elizabeth Chadwick, @chadwickauthor on Twitter, tweeted this article this morning, about an auction of two hundred year old wooden sex toys. One phallus measures 10 inches with testicles, the other 11 inches without testicles. Wow.

I've led such a sheltered life. I blame it on the nuns. Comments? Or are you all stunned into silence?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Willoughby's Return by Jane Odiwe - a review

It is with considerable trepidation that I ever read a sequel to one of Jane Austen's novels, because they seldom accord with my own opinion of how the story could or should continue. The tagline of Willoughby's Return, though, drew me in straight away - "A tale of almost irresistible temptation".

The premise is delicious. Marianne Dashwood is now happily married to Colonel Brandon, and mistress of Delaford. Her life is everything it should be, and she is perfectly happy and conscious of her own good fortune. All that remains is to see her now eighteen-year-old sister Margaret settled as advantageously.

Enter the "almost irresistible temptation". Willoughby's sudden return into the neighbourhood disrupts this happy scene and makes Marianne increasingly uneasy. He makes it clear, very early in their reacquaintance, that he greatly regrets his marriage and is as much in love with her as ever.

Colonel Brandon's ward's daughter, Lizzy, is a frail, ill child, and Brandon frequently travels away from home to help tend to her. This places an increasing strain on the Brandons' marriage, and makes the temptation of Willoughby's attentions all the more powerful.

Jane Odiwe follows the form of Jane Austen's novels admirably. She weaves the existing characters with such new characters as Jane Austen herself would approve. We are introduced to the indolent invalid Lady Lawrence; her dashing son Henry; and my favourite new character, Mademoiselle de Fontenay, who is surely modelled on Jane Austen's own cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. Old favourites, such as Lucy Ferrars, make a number of appearances and are as irritating as ever.

But, here's the rub. My objections to Willoughby's Return are not based on any failings in the novel itself, but rather in my own expectations - as I mentioned at the beginning. My Marianne would be happily married, but in a quieter, more sedate way, rather than the passionate love affair portrayed here. My Marianne would be more jaded, grateful to Colonel Brandon for loving her despite her indiscretions, because my Marianne was no virgin when she married.

(Regular readers of this blog might remember an earlier post on this subject - if you'd like to read it again, it's here: )

However, the ending is satisfying and is all that it should be, even for me. Jane Odiwe's interpretations of Jane Austen's works might differ slightly from my own, but I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel, and the characters have stayed with me - particularly the masterful creation, Mademoiselle de Fontenay, who could have been created by Jane Austen herself.

As an Austen-related work I give it 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"I think he must be Irish by his ease"

For the day that's in it (as we say here in Ireland), I thought I'd look very quickly at Jane Austen's attitude towards Ireland in honour of St. Patrick's Day. Please pardon the extremely short synopsis of Irish history which is to follow!

Ireland, to Jane Austen, was an alien country. In a letter to her niece Anna in 1814, famously advising her on her own novel, she wrote:

"And we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representation."

It was advice she had used herself in her own writing. In The Watsons, her incomplete novel begun while living in Bath, we learn that Emma Watson's aunt has married Captain O'Brien and gone to live with him in Ireland. Captain O'Brien's character is not good; he appears to be a fortune hunter, and it is likely that the marriage will be unhappy. Of Ireland, Mr Edwards says "I do not wonder that you should not wish to go with her into that country, Miss Emma." In her later novel Emma, Jane Fairfax returns to Highbury to live with her Aunt Bates rather than accompany the Campbells, with whom she had been living, to Ireland.

Although Jane Austen grew up during a time of great unrest in Ireland, like many of her peers she seems to have known little of events there. Ireland at the time was divided squarely into two categories; the poor Catholic "native" Irish and the (usually) wealthy, land-owning Protestant Irish (Church of Ireland). Even the disastrous Irish rebellion of 1798 went unremarked upon by her letters or novels, even though she alludes to news of her "Irish friend" in letters of that year.

When Jane Austen refers to Ireland or the Irish in her books or letters, she is referring not to the ordinary Catholic Irish, but rather to the Protestant ascendancy; a group of people still thought of by "native" Irish people as English, regardless of how many generations they had lived in the country. However, it seems as though the Irish ascendancy were generally more relaxed in their manners than their English counterparts. A couple of throw-away comments of Jane Austen's show us her opinion of what Irish men's manners were, or should have been.

Even of her one-time beau, Tom Lefroy, she writes:

I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together... He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you.

Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 1796

The last seems to be added to contradict some of Cassandra's expectations to the contrary, based on her knowledge - or rumours - of Irish manners.

Perhaps those rumours were not always unfounded. In 1804, while on holiday in Lyme Regis, Jane is both flattered and affronted by a young man at a ball who makes clear his interest in her.

...had I chosen to stay longer I might have danced... with a new, odd-looking Man who had been eyeing me for some time, & at last without any introduction asked me if I meant to dance again. - I think he must be Irish, by his ease, & because I imagine him to belong to the Honble Barnwalls, who are the son & son's wife of an Irish Viscount - bold, queerlooking people, just fit to be Quality at Lyme.

Jane Austen to Cassandra, September 1804

Yet there was a romantic sensibility about Ireland that was in vogue at the time. Although Jane Fairfax did not follow the Campbells to Ireland, we are given an image, through her correspondence with the new Mrs Dixon, of a beautiful verdant country that would be pleasant to visit. Irish linen and lace were popular above other varieties, and Irish airs and melodies were to be found in every drawing room and ballroom.

Jane Austen may have never followed Tom Lefroy to Ireland; but in 2007 "Jane Austen" (Anne Hathaway) did. The atrocious film "Becoming Jane" was shot on location in Wicklow and Dublin, which interestingly were the real-life haunts of the real Tom Lefroy. Ireland was chosen as a location because

"Hampshire now is groomed and manicured and what we were able to find in Ireland was a sense of countryside that felt more unchanged. That was one of the things that I really wanted to get... a sense of the landscape in which Jane Austen grew up. Ireland also has a great variety of Georgian houses and older houses as well. I think it gave us quite a different and interesting look for the film."

(Julian Jarrold, director)

So, would Jane Austen actually have liked Ireland if she had ever visited? I'm inclined to think that she would have loved the countryside, and equally inclined to hope that, like Jonathon Swift, she would have been appalled by the poverty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I am greatly indebted to Ann at Inkpots 'n' Quills for kindly and graciously giving me this award. I'm quite sure I don't deserve it. Really. As though I would ever be "creative" in my blogging...


But I digress. In receiving this award, I am obliged to post six untruths about myself, plus one half-truth; and you, the reader, get to guess which one is the half-truth.

Then I nominate six other blogs to receive the award, and they must in turn post six untruths/one half truth. And so on.

Without further ado, my nominees are:

And *drumroll, fanfare* here are my untruths/half truth. Have fun guessing! Answers in the comments, pur-lease.

1. I pride myself on being a good Catholic. I attend confession at least once per fortnight, and receive the Eucharist weekly.

2. I'm really quite sporty. I swim long-distance, used to ride competitively, and am big into orienteering.

3. I once won the Lotto (Irish National Lottery) jackpot.

4. I take great pride in my personal appearance, especially in the area of grooming. My eyebrows are threaded, my moustache electrolosys-ded, and my bikini area waxed, regularly and without fail. There is no excuse for neglecting these basics.

5. I am allergic to peanuts.

6. My home reflects my OCD tendencies - it is perpetually neat, I cannot bear for it to be any other way. I'll prioritise cleaning and tidying over anything else.

7. I have secretly always wanted to be an actress.

Right, there you go. *Sings* "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is not quite the same...."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Jane Bites Back", a review

It was with some trepidation
that I started reading
"Jane Bites Back" by Michael Thomas Ford.

At first glance, it seemed to be the perfect book for me; a crossover between my two favourite genres, bloodsucking fiends vs. pelisses and petticoats.

However... such crossovers are notoriously difficult to pull off. There may be a current fashion for bastardising Jane Austen's life and works with added zombies and sea monsters, but in my opinion very few are successful.

Still, I embarked on "Jane Bites Back" with good will and an open mind. I stormed through the entire book in a day, which is one thing that I can say in its favour, since not many books hold my attention so fully at the moment when I am constantly in the middle of half a dozen at any one time.

As a vampire novel it is quite delicious. Jane's vampire sire/suitor is absolutely perfect, everything one would want; and her nemesis (whose identity I guessed straight away) made me laugh out loud.

However, as a Jane Austen related book it falls decidedly flat - Janeite purists will not enjoy it! I found the character of Jane to be interesting, as long as I thought of her as Jane Fairfax - but Jane Austen she was not. There was no wit, no cutting remarks (all of those came from her assistant, Lucy), no savvy, no fire. She was ignorant of custom and etiquette in certain facets of modern life, in a way that I feel sure Jane Austen herself (she who was a stickler for manners) would never allow herself to become.

As a novel generally, the ending was also rather rushed and pat. It smacks of "buy the sequel", but without making that quite an enticing enough prospect.

While puzzling over this book last night, and trying to put my finger on what my issues with it were, I came to this final conclusion:

This book is about a modern day vampire, who just happens to be Jane Austen.
It is not about Jane Austen in the modern day, who happens to be a vampire.

It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

So, as a vampire novel I would award it three stars out of five; but sadly as an Austenesque work, only 1 out of five.

Have you read it? What's your opinion?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Horror in Fiction Land!

Inspired by question 7 (Is your book autobiographical?) on Lauren B. Davis' excellent blog post, Ten Questions Not to Ask Writers, I'd like to share with you all a little horror story connected to my first novel.

This novel (for which I'm currently seeking representation) is called "Growing Up. Again." Just to explain it briefly, here's my own tag line:

Most people grow up, figure out who they are, and leave home – once.

After the sudden death of her husband, thirty-five year old Emma Thomas has to do it all over again.

On her journey she battles her manipulative mother-in-law whose plans for Emma's future border on the incestuous; unearths a number of family skeletons; and encounters bullying of various forms.

She also finds a second chance at love – if she can forgive herself for taking it.

When I was close to finishing the first draft I asked two friends - lets called them Ann and Amy - to read it for me and give some honest feedback. That's when "it" happened.

Both of those early readers read the book, and decided - independently of each other - that the love interest in my work of fiction was based on a mutual friend: a happily married man with three children and the husband of another close friend, who we'll call Alice.

Their basis for this assumption? The fact that I had told them I had gained inspiration for my character's house from Alice's new house; and that his name had the same first initial. That's it.

What could I do? I laughed it off and reminded them that this was fiction.

And changed the character's name.

Two weeks ago I had a girls' night out with Ann, Amy and Alice. Foolishly I mentioned something about my progress on getting published, and Ann and Amy burst out laughing. Then they decided to tell Alice about my supposed lust for her husband.


After I'd finished turning an incriminating shade of scarlet, and had failed to ooze through a crack in the floor, I tried to laugh it off again. Alice didn't seem terribly impressed, but I think she saw the funny side.

When we were leaving, she said she was going to tell her husband.

Oh God.

Every Friday a gang of us meet for breakfast and a natter; it's a date that's carved in stone. When Alice's husband turned up and sat down opposite me I didn't know where to look. It was like being back in primary school, when your friend has told his friend that you like him, but you don't know if his friend has told him yet, so you're trying to act cool...

Except we're not in primary school, and I really, really don't have a crush on my friend's husband.

It's fiction, people!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" by Laurie Viera Rigler

Courtney Stone wakes one morning in her beautiful four-poster bed in her sumptuously arranged bedroom.

The only problem is that it's not her bedroom. In fact, it's not even her body.

Somehow, 21st century Courtney has woken up in the body - and the life - of Miss Jane Mansfield, a lady from the early 19th century.

Astonished and objecting, Courtney soon learns to hold her tongue about her true identity when her less than maternal "mother" threatens her with exile to an asylum - permanently. Over time, Courtney adapts to living in Jane's body and life, and begins to recall memories that are not her own. She also begins to fall in love with Jane's suitor, the enigmatic Mr Edgeworth.

With no idea as to whether she will ever escape to her own (albeit disastrous) life in the 21st century, Courtney/Jane has to learn to live in the present - even though that present is two hundred years in the past. She gradually accepts a slower pace of life and, in time, comes to feel that maybe she doesn't want to return to her own time, after all.

Laura Viera Rigler leads us on a fun, light, guided tour through the early nineteenth century, as seen through the eyes of a disillusioned modern woman. We are allowed to experience personal hygiene, travel, shopping, and love, all on a much slower and more considered scale than the one we're used to.

Gradually, along with Courtney/Jane, we overcome our own cynicism and preconceived notions about the time, and to see them with a new understanding.

The only factor lacking in this enjoyable book is the flip-side of the story; where has the "real" Jane Mansfield gone? If she has taken up the mantle of Courtney's 21st century life, as is hinted, how is she coping?

Obviously, I will now have to read "Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict" in order to answer those questions. ;)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jane IS obsessed with Jane

A good friend of mine - who didn't realise that I was predominantly blogging about Jane Austen - recently told me that she thought the title of my blog was profoundly narcissistic. "Jane Obsessed with Jane"? Oh, how I laughed. Before deleting her number from my phone.

But seriously, while the purpose of this blog is mainly to help me coordinate the research I'm doing on Jane Austen before writing my next novel, "According to Miss Austen", it is also to help me to chart my own progress while writing. You know, one has to "grow" as a writer, and that sort of thing. ;)

Anyway, I put a major growth spurt on today. The title of a blog post by @BubbleCow (read all the details on ) made me come over all peculiar. The post was on the subject of blogging every day if you want to really develop your "brand". As such, it is good advice, as is most of the advice from BubbleCow; but for me, it was the final straw.

I have, of late, missed much sleep and been plagued and vexed by a constant feeling that I've forgotten something - the feeling you get when you've left the iron on. It's been exhausting. Finally, today I realised where it was coming from - myself. I have been lapping up every piece of advice on writing I could find; when, where and what to write; when to blog, whether to tweet, how to network. The end result was guilt and inevitable failure and - you've guessed it - that "left the iron on" feeling.

Overnight, I have entered writing adolescence. F*** you, I won't do what you tell me - and all that. I have rebelled. No more will I slavishly attempt to follow every bit of advice out there, like a biddable eight-year-old. No, I have become that most loathsome of creatures, an adolescent writer! Sure, I'll make mistakes, but they'll be MY mistakes, Goddamnit.

Is this a stage every aspiring writer passes through? Oh boy, I hope so. Please don't let me be the only one - all teenagers might want to be rebels, but only if their friends are too...

With any luck this period of obnoxiousness will be brief, and will culminate in me turning into my mother, as it has in real life. Then I will counsel newbie writers with sage advice, and tut to myself when they don't follow it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ten Things You Don't Know About Me

Following @rebeccaebrown and @mruku, and in the manner of the petulant child who cries "Me too! Me too!", here are ten things you didn't know about me.

1. I am a notorious pedant. Oh, you knew that already? Misuse of language and ignorance of punctuation and grammar rile me intensely. I have been known to correct friends and family to their faces when they've committed a malapropism or other error. Come to think of it, it's rather miraculous that I actually still have any friends...

2. However, because I am complex, I also love malapropisms, mispronunciations and examples of redundant apostrophe 's! I delight in them in a horrible, "more grammatical than thou" way. Sometimes I save them and use them over and over again; thus, after more than twenty years, I still call Ferrero Rocher "Ferrickity Rockers" (overheard in a shop) and envelopes will always be "enveolopleves". (Yes, I did see that written down, exactly like that.)

3. I don't get music. Seriously. If there's such a things as musical dyslexia, then I have it. I cannot tell one note from another, nor can I distinguish between the sounds of different musical instruments. When I was in secondary school music was obligatory for the first year. I spent most of that year outside the door of the music room, because the music teacher was convinced that I was taking the piss, and that no-one could be such a complete musical ignoramus. Well, I wasn't and I am. I still don't really do music; I can listen to it for short bursts on a car journey, but at no other time. This is a source of great regret/bewildered bemusement to my very musically inclined, ukulele-playing husband.

4. I can't sing. At all. Probably related to No. 3. When I was five, I took part in a Tops of the Town-type thing, during which I was chosen to be the very special little girl who stood on stage pointing at the star during "Twinkle Twinkle", but who most definitely was not to actually sing. Thankfully, my daughter has a beautiful singing voice. So I'm told.

5. I also can't/don't/won't dance. Seeing a pattern?

6. I am an army brat. I lived in Israel for two years with my family, during a time of considerable unrest and shelling of Israel by the PLO. Being kids, my friends and I were largely oblivious. When a shell landed on the beach, 50 metres from a friend of mine who was launched into the air by the blast but was unhurt, we all thought it was cool. Once, my mother had to leave me at home, sick, while she ran to the shops. She got caught in some shelling and was forced by soldiers to take shelter. When she finally got home some hours later, she was nearly frantic, bursting into the bedroom to see if I was alright, or if I had been terrified. I was buried in a book and hadn't even noticed that she'd been gone.

7. Hmm. Running out of stuff to say. I was the one to propose to my now husband, will that do? At Dun Aonghus, on Inishmore (island off the west of Ireland, stunning cliffs), looking out over the Atlantic on a glorious day. He was silent for a few moments, gazing pensively over the waves; then turned to me and said, "I do." Poor sap. He still doesn't know what hit him.

8. I am a rabid, strident, card-carrying atheist. Oh, you knew that about me too? Don't care, still leaving it as number 8, cos I can't think of another one!

9. I have a Master's degree in Film Studies. The subject of my thesis was male-to-female cross-dressing in Hollywood comedies. I argued that men parodying "femininity" was actually a feminist act, by demonstrating what a contrived construct "femininity" actually is. Fascinating, huh? Got first class honours for it, too. As you can see, it has led me to make my fortune. Not.

10. I am socially phobic. Yes, really. I was formally diagnosed about four years ago. I know, you're all astounded, what with me being so outgoing and amusing and all. However, for years just leaving the house was a massive undertaking; getting on a bus or entering a building full of people caused anxiety attacks. Being able to put a name to my problem has been a massive help and has enabled me to figure out lots of coping mechanisms. That being said, I genuinely love people and am fond of a good natter; but it has to be on my terms or I just won't show up. You have been warned.

Right, there you go; the above is the mixed bag that is me. I'm probably going to regret this...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jane Austen and Sex before Marriage

I'd just like to share with you all a few thoughts I've been having on the subject of sex before or outside marriage in Regency times. Jane Austen's view of such indiscretions appears mixed, to say the least.

A couple of young female characters in Jane Austen's novels are, shall we say, a little indiscreet in their relationships, and certainly meet with the come-uppance a reader of the time would expect. Isabella Thorpe, disappointed by her fiance's comparative lack of fortune, allows herself to be wooed and seduced by Captain Frederick Tilney. In so doing, the full extent of her flawed character is revealed. She finds herself disgraced and abandoned by her more honourable fiance. What befalls her then we do not know. Is she pregnant? Will she ever find a husband? We are left to guess what her future might hold.

Maria Bertram commits a similar sin; having married for money, but without love, she cuckolds her husband with the dashing Henry Crawford. Here her punishment is clear; she is expelled from her marriage, banished from her family and has to suffer the companionship and "comfort" of her Aunt Norris for the remainder of her days. Hellish indeed.

Curiously, not all of Jane Austen's characters who commit similar indiscretions are so punished. Lydia Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, the most shameless and disgraceful flirt of all, has a veneer of respectability placed over her conduct by her family, and is welcomed back into the fold. Eliza Williams in Sense & Sensibility, the daughter of Colonel Brandon's ward who is seduced and left pregnant by John Willoughby, is merely pitied for her plight, though she too will be excluded from polite society.

The difference in treatment of these various characters by Jane Austen seems to depend not so much on the sin of having sexual relationships, but on whether or not those relationships were adulterous, or injurious to another person. Therefore, Lydia Bennet is forgiven, since she has not harmed another suitor, as is Eliza Williams. Maria Bertram and Isabella Thorpe have both wounded honest men, and cannot be forgiven.

This brings me to a final, rather thorny question; that of Marianne Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility. Marianne launches herself into a passionate, unreserved relationship with Mr John Willoughby. Marianne is reckless; open in her regard for Willoughby, driving around the countryside with him unchaperoned, and finally allowing him to bring her to visit his house, Combe Magna. They visit the house in secret and alone, when Willoughby has already hinted at his intentions towards Marianne.

Marianne goes on to marry Colonel Brandon, who has already shown himself to be compassionate and understanding in his manner of dealing with his ward, Eliza Williams, and her situation. I can't help wondering if he was also aware and accepting of the fact that his wife had committed the same transgression as that of his ward, and with the same man? If Marianne had done so, which would surely harm her other suitor Colonel Brandon, she should not have had such a happy ending according to Jane Austen's own self-imposed standard. Or was Marianne the exception which proves the rule?

Because my final question is, did Marianne have sex with Willoughby, or didn't she? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Th' Occasion of The Marriage of Miss Katie Price

The lovely Katie Price has tied the knot. Again. The blushing bride was demure and modest in an appropriate and tasteful white gown.

My intention with this blog post was to write a review of one of the books I have been reading for research, and a great favourite of mine, Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, 1811 . The author of this work, "a Lady of Distinction", has amused the little cotton socks off me with many of the strict rules and regulations of dress which she has laid down for young ladies to follow.

However, simultaneously, I have been surprised and delighted to find that much of her advice would still translate perfectly in the twenty-first century; and I have to confess that the name of Jordan popped into my mind on more than one occasion when reading it! So I couldn't resist making the lovely Ms Katie Price the subject of this post. I would very much like to introduce her to the "Lady of Distinction".

The "Lady of Distinction" counsels strongly against the excessive use of cosmetics:

"...the occasional use of rouge may be tolerated, yet, my fair friends must understand that it is only tolerated... A violently rouged woman is one of the most disgusting objects to the eye... transforms the elegant lady of fashion into a vulgar harridan."

The author also advises against fighting one's own natural colouring, and altering hair colour, eyelashes, etc.

"For instance, a gold-tressed wig on the head of a brown woman, makes both ridiculous," (Yes, I know Katie is currently a brunette of sorts, but you'll have to allow me that one in memory of her past glories!) and

"Let every woman be content to leave her eyes as she found them... Let them speak this unsophisticated language, and beauty will beam from the orb which affectation would have rendered odious."

The "Lady of Distinction" goes on to advise about the importance of taste and elegance in dress.

"Elegant dressing is not found in expense; money without judgement may load, but never can adorn... it ought not to be very surprising, when opulence, vanity and bad taste meet, that we should find extravagance and tawdry profusion the fruits of the union."

The author further advises against over-exposure of the bosom, as well as moulding it into unnatural shapes;

"...the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a sort-of fleshy shelf, disgusting to the beholders, and certainly most incommodious to the bearer."

It must also be born in mind that Ms Price is not as young and fresh as once she was.

"Let the youthful female exhibit without shade as much of her bust as shall come within the limits of fashion, without infringing on the borders of immodesty. Let the fair of riper years appear less exposed."

In light of Ms Price's common modes of dress, one cannot help but wonder as to the character of her new husband, for

"No eye but that of a libertine can look upon so wanton a figure with any other sensations than those of disgust and contempt..."

Hmm. I think I might send my copy of The Mirror Of Graces to Ms Price as a wedding present. I've highlighted all the relevant passages, so that she needn't tax herself by reading too much. Plus, as she pointed out in relation to her own "biography", there are several pictures in it that you can look at, even if you don't read much.

Would she get the message then?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Not to Be a Hypochondriac: Jane Austen

Last Saturday night my darling daughter celebrated her 8th birthday with a slumber party, to which six of her friends were invited. No more on this subject for now; I shall recover in time, and I'm sure that the nightmares will cease. Eventually.

But what, I hear you ask, does this have to do with Jane Austen and hypochondria? Fear not, for my grasshopper-like brain has been at work!

In some blessedly quiet moments during the aforementioned slumber party, I had two options; one to retire to a corner where I could rock and mutter to myself until the children left; the other, which I chose, to wonder about the manner in which Jane Austen spent her own birthdays.

Jane Austen was born on 16th December, 1775, a time when an individual's birthday, especially when on of a large family, was not given the level of import that it is now. On the occasion of her birth her father wrote the following letter:

Steventon: December 17, 1775.

DEAR SISTER,–You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners, but so it was, for Cassy certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago; however, last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy, and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Harry as Cassy is to Neddy. Your sister, thank God, is pure well after it.

Still, I searched through her extant letters hoping for some glimpse of how her birthdays were spent. I was interested to note that the first line of the first letter is actually devoted to her sister Cassandra's birthday:

Steventon: Saturday January 9

In the first place I hope you will live twenty-three years longer. Mr Tom Lefroy's birthday was yesterday, so that you are very near of an age.

The above was the entire sum of Jane's mention of the occasion; from this it would appear that very little fuss was made of such an event.

In 1798 Jane wrote to Cassandra on 18th December, two days after her birthday, so I had some hope of finding some mention of the occasion. However, apart from a mention of a sum of money, which may or may not have been a birthday gift, the only reference to the event was this:

" - I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his messages, for his Love at least; - his Duty I suppose was only in consequence of some hint of my favorable intentions towards him from his father or Mother. - I am sincerely rejoiced however that I ever was born, since it has been the means of procuring him a dish of Tea. - "

Further mentions of birthdays in Jane Austen's letters are scant, and only touch on the subject. However, while scanning the letter of 18th Dec 1798, I was struck by the following lines:

" - My Mother continues hearty, her appetite & nights are very good, but her Bowels are still not entirely settled, & she sometimes complains of an Asthma, a Dropsy, Water in her Chest & a Liver Disorder."

I find it quite striking that almost as much mention is made of her hypochondriac mother's health as is made of her own birthday. In fact, a passage of every single extant letter is devoted to her mother's health; on some occasions the entire letter is composed of such news.

Given the fact that Jane Austen's mother lived to a venerable old age, we can only conclude that there was little seriously amiss with her health and that she is the model for many of the ridiculous hypochondriacs featured in Jane Austen's novels, such as Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Frank Churchill's aunt in Emma, and Anne Elliot's sister Mary in Persuasion.

However, there are those characters in her novels whose illnesses are genuine, and who are treated with greater respect by Jane Austen's pen. Emma's father Mr Woodhouse, though considered by many to be yet another hypochondriac, is treated much more kindly than the other, more ridiculous characters of the other novels. There is an interesting difference, however, in his character; his concerns are not merely for his own health, but are very much for the health of those he cares for, in sharp contrast with the selfishness of, for example, Mary Elliot. It appears therefore that Mr Woodhouse was not a hypochondriac, but a genuine invalid. Though he was naturally preoccupied with his own health he never ceased to have regard for the health, safety and feelings of others.

In her final illness Jane Austen seems to have taken Mr Woodhouse's conduct as an example for her own. Though writing honestly of her symptoms, such as in this extract from her letter to her niece Fanny Knight, 23-25 March 1817:

" - Many thanks for your kind care for my health; I certainly have not been well for many weeks, & about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times & indifferent nights, but am considerably better now, & recovering my Looks a little, which have been bad enough, black & white and every wrong colour. I must not depend on being ever very blooming again. Sickness is a dangerous Indulgence at my time of Life. - "

It is clear from the above that, while wishing to give a full report of her health, Jane Austen does not wish to descend into hypochondria, that "dangerous Indulgence". Later in the same letter, she enquires and reports with interest on "Little Harriet's headaches", "William's cough", and the health or otherwise of several other friends and family members, in direct contrast with the usual behaviour of her fictional hypochondriacs. Even in her last letter, which was to her niece Fanny Knight, she spent a considerable amount of the letter in commiserating with her niece after a family bereavement and discussing the health and welfare of others, only briefly interrupting to say:

" - I continue very tolerably well, much better than any one could have supposed possible, because I certainly have had considerable fatigue of body as well as anguish of mind for months back, but I really am well, & I hope I am properly grateful to the Almighty for having been so supported."

To the last Jane Austen asserted to her friends that she would recover, spoke with great intent of taking exercise and being healthful, and never succumbed to the selfish failings of her famous hypochondriacs.

On Saturday 24th May 1817 she moved to Winchester to be attended by better doctors, and by 18th July of the same year she was dead.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Her teeth are tolerable, I suppose."

I hate the dentist.

I know, I know, everyone does; but after one and a half hours of sitting in that chair today, and receiving an absolutely whopping filling, I'm feeling especially sorry for myself.

One of the greatest trials for me was sitting for so long without being able to read, or tweet, or amuse myself in any way. At times like this my mind almost inevitably wanders to the subject of Jane Austen, and I found myself wondering what, if any, her experiences of dentistry were.

I'm still plowing through Jane Austen's Letters by Deirdre Le Faye, and I was surprised and pleased to come across this letter from Jane to Cassandra, dated Thursday 16th September, 1813, of which I reproduce this extract:

" - The poor Girls & their Teeth! - I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence's, & Lizzy's were filed & lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the Eye teeth, to make room for those in front. - When her doom was fixed, Fanny Lizzy & I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty Screams. - Fanny's teeth were cleaned too - & pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold and talking gravely - & making a considerable point of seeing her again before winter; - he had before urged the expediency of L. & M.s being brought to Town in the course of a couple of Months to be farther examined, & continued to the last to press for their all coming to him. - My Br would not absolutely promise. - The little girls teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischeif (sic) to parade about Fannys. - I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it. - It was a disagreeable hour."

So it would seem, whatever my opinion of dentists, Miss Jane Austen's opinion was decidedly worse!

Since she would not submit to an examination herself, we can only conclude that her teeth were in pretty good shape - since a persistent toothache is so unbearable as to make a trip to even that dentist seem like a welcome relief.

Indeed, of all the illnesses of the time, toothache is said to be the one which was most dreaded; certainly there was precious little that bleeding could do to cure a rotten molar! If Miss Jane Austen did suffer from toothache, she may have resorted to this little remedy, once again taken from Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, 1811 :

Remedy for the Tooth-ach

In two drachms of rectified spirits of wine dissolve one drachm of camphire, five grains of prepared opium, and ten drops of oil of box; mix them well, and keep it well corked for use. If the pain arise from a hollow tooth, four or five drops on cotton to be put into the tooth; or six or seven drops to be put on cotton into the ear on the side where the pain is felt. Should the patient not feel easier in a quarter of an hour, the same may be repeated. It has never failed on the second application.

I don't doubt that it never failed on the second application, but I find myself wondering why they bothered with any of the ingredients besides the opium!

After due reflection, I find that my dentist is tolerable. I suppose.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday 14th January 1796 / 2010!

I'm currently reading Jane Austen's Letters edited by Deirdre LeFaye and was massively tickled to notice that 14th January 1796 was a Thursday, just as 14th January 2010 is! (I know, I know, but it's the little things in life that thrill us sometimes.)

And so, mostly as a treat to myself, I am going to transcribe an entire letter written on this date in 1796 to her sister Cassandra. Jane Austen was twenty-one years old at the time.

I can't help feeling tremendously close to Jane Austen as I read this particular letter, and to feel also a great sympathy for the two sisters. At the time of writing Cassandra Austen was engaged to Mr Tom Fowle, and Jane Austen herself had high hopes of a proposal of marriage from Mr Tom Lefroy, the cousin of some close family friends. A few short months later Tom Fowle was dead from yellow fever, and Tom Lefroy had been packed off home to Ireland for fear of his making an imprudent match with the virtually penniless Miss Jane Austen.

Steventon Thursday January 14th

I have received yours & Mary's letter & I thank you both, tho' their contents might have been more agreeable. I do not at all expect to see you on tuesday since matters have fallen out so unpleasantly, & if you are not able to return till after that day, it will hardly be possible for us to send for you before Saturday; tho' for my own part I care so little about the Ball that it would be no sacrifice to me to give it up for the sake of seeing you two days earlier. We are extremely sorry for poor Eliza's illness - I trust however that she has continued to recover since you wrote, & that you will none of you be the worse for your attendance on her. What a good-for-nothing-fellow Charles is to be-speak the stockings - I hope he will be too hot all the rest of his life for it! - I sent you a letter yesterday to Ibthorp, which I suppose you will not receive at Kintbury. It was not very long or very witty, & therefore if you never receive it, it does not much signify. I wrote principally to tell you that the Coopers are arrived and in good health - the little boy is very like Dr Cooper & the little girl is to resemble Jane, they say. Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (for a ball is nothing without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, & I - I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.
I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last Letter, for I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument. - Edward is gone to spend the day with his friend, John Lyford, & does not return till tomorrow. Anna is now here; She came up in her chaise to spend the day with her young Cousins; but she does not much take to them or to anything about them, except Catherine's Spinning-Wheel. I am very glad to find from Mary that Mr & Mrs Fowle are pleased with you. I hope you will continue to give satisfaction.
How impertinent you are to write to me about Tom, as if I had not opportunities of hearing from him myself. The last letter that I received from him was dated on friday the 8th, and he told me that if the wind should be favourable on Sunday, which it proved to be, they were to set sail from Falmouth on that Day. By this time therefore they are at Barbadoes I suppose. The Rivers are still at Manydown, and are to be at Ashe tomorrow. I intended to call on the Miss Biggs yesterday had the weather been tolerable. Caroline, Anna & I have just been devouring some cold Scouse, & it would be difficult to say which enjoyed it most. -
Tell Mary that I make over Mr Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, & not only him, but all my other Admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr Tom Lefroy, for whom I donot care sixpence. Assure her also as a last and indubitable proof of Warren's indifference to me, that he actually drew that Gentleman's picture for me, & delivered it to me without a Sigh.
Friday - At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over. - My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. Wm. Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass. John Lyford & his Sister bring Edward home to day, dine with us, & we shall all go together to Ashe. I understand that we are to draw for Partners. - I shall be extremely impatient to hear from you again, that I may know how Eliza is, & when you are to return. With best Love, &c., I am affect:tely yours

J: Austen

Jane Austen's own voice is as clear as a bell in this particular missive. She is obviously young, giddy and in love, but is trying to do her duty by her sister by keeping her informed of the mundane day-to-day events in Steventon. However, here and there it is as though she cannot help herself, and she must let her true feelings burst forth again, displaying her excitement at the forthcoming ball and the "offer" she hopes to receive.

Soon after this letter, we know, her hopes were shattered, and a few months later Cassandra's heart was broken with the death of her fiance.

Neither sister would ever marry. This letter represents possibly one of the last happy days where both believed that a happily married future awaited them, and as such it is precious and poignant.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jane Austen's answer to Rimmel; Get the Longbourne Look!

I am currently reading Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler, and have been chortling heartily at Courtney/Jane's horror at facing the Nineteenth-Century world with a face devoid of make-up.

Until the last couple of days I would have been in total agreement with her horror, but having spent three days without running water of any kind (thank you, "cold snap"), I've found being bare of face curiously uninhibiting.

However, old habits die hard and as soon as my water returned this morning I was in my electric power shower, blow-drying and ghd'ing my hair, and applying my usual slap. This all put me in mind of a little book I've recently bought and have only just glanced through, Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces which was written by A Lady of Distinction and first published in 1811.

At the back of the book are a number of recipes for unguents, balms, and cosmetic substitutes, such as were acceptable for young ladies of good character to use. My eye was particularly caught by a receipt for "Virgin Milk", which I share with you now.

Virgin Milk

A publication of this kind would certainly be looked upon as an imperfect performance, if we omitted to say a few words upon this famous cosmetic. It consists of a tincture of Benjoin, precipitated by water. The tincture of Benjoin is obtained by taking a certain quantity of that gum, pouring spirits of wine upon it, and boiling it till it becomes a rich tincture. If you pour a few drops of this tincture into a glass of water, it will produce a mixture which will assume all the appearances of milk, and retain a very agreeable perfume. If the face is washed with this mixture, it will, by calling the purple stream of the blood to the external fibres of the epidermis, produce on the cheeks a beautiful rosy colour; and, if left on the face to dry, it will render it clear and brilliant. It also removes spots, freckles, pimples, erysipelatous eruptions, &c. &c. if they have not been of long standing on the skin.

Another one also made me laugh, from the days long before Botox:

A Paste for the Skin

(This may be recommended in cases when the skin seems to get too loosely attached to the muscles.)

Boil the whites of four eggs in rose water, add to it a sufficient quantity of alum; beat the whole together till it takes the consistence of a paste. This will give, when applied, great firmness to the skin.

If anyone cares to try these time-honoured receipts, do please, please, let me know!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vapour, shadow, smoke and confusion

"...the first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke and confusion."

- letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, May 1801

I am off to Bath tomorrow, to follow in the steps of Jane Austen, who lived there quite unhappily from 1801 to 1806. Jane had no choice in her parents' decision to relocate to Bath from her beloved Steventon, to live out their elderly years in a city which by now was more a popular retirement community than a fashionable watering hole. With no fortune of her own she, like her sister Cassandra, was entirely dependent on her parents and was not even consulted with regard to the move.

Jane Austen was not, by nature, a city person. She delighted in open countryside, small village communities, and the freedom to indulge in long, solitary walks. It is small wonder that she seems to have felt quite stultified in bright, bustling Bath. Certainly she wrote almost nothing new during the five years that she lived there. Creativity requires some measure of routine, contentment and security, all of which were in short supply while the Austens lived in Bath.

The family moved a number of times during their five year sojourn in the city. They stayed first at No. 1 Paragon Buildings, the home of relatives the Leigh-Perrots. From there they looked for lodgings, settling on 4, Sydney Place, though it was more expensive than they had budgeted for. Three years later they were forced to move to cheaper lodgings in Green Park Buildings, where George Austen, Jane's father, died.

Mrs Austen, Jane and Cassandra were now in very straitened circumstances and were only surviving on small dividends from Jane's various brothers. They moved to successively poorer accommodation, first in Gay Street and then in Trim Street, before leaving Bath behind for ever.

Jane's earlier visits to Bath had been much happier and more carefree, doubtless because they were only for fixed periods of time. This attitude is captured in Northanger Abbey, where Catherine Morland declares

"Oh! Who could ever be tired of Bath?"

This contrasts strongly with Anne Elliott's view of Bath, which seems to accord very much with the author's after living there for five years, of

"Oh! when shall I leave you again?"

My plan is to visit every former home of Jane Austen in Bath, as well as places she would have frequented, as part of my research into her life during this period for my new book, According to Miss Austen. I hope to blog and tweet about my research several times while I'm there.

Finally to walk in Jane Austen's footsteps, even if those steps were not happy ones!