Monday, January 15, 2018

Inspirational Trees

Trees are everywhere. They clean our air, break up boring landscapes, soften built-up areas. We take them for granted until they drop their leaves on the rails and disrupt the trains, or are blown down in a hurricane.  But they are very inspirational. Think of the stories that involve trees. Charles II hiding in the oak, myths and legends like Robin Hood taking refuge in the forest, big bad wolves hiding there, a tree lined road that conceals hidden menace. Even forests that are alive, and trees that can move.

I find them very inspirational and many years ago I watched a tv programme that introduced a series of trees, including the Pitchford Lime, an ancient tree with a beautiful treehouse built amongst its branches (there it is, above).  The treehouse wasn't a children's toy but used by adults. My imagination immediately moved towards a story with my heroine using her treehouse as a refuge.  That story turned into one of my all time favourites, Lucasta.

Many people find a walk in the forest relaxing. There is something about trees that can be comforting, to say nothing of the benefits of exercise! On the flip side, think of a forest in winter, bare trees, wind soughing through the branches, or even a wood at night with owls hooting and leaves rustling. Then you have the beginnings of a nightmare.  I recently enjoyed a walk through a nearby forest which was very much like the setting for a Gothic novel, and I came across this beauty.


Immediately I was imagining secret trysts, or a heroine coming upon a strange man resting upon this branch. Is he hero or villain, will he be her downfall or salvation?

What do you think about trees, to they set your imagination running wild, or perhaps you just enjoy walking through them, listening to the birdsong, looking out for squirrels. Maybe you remember building a treehouse?  Do tell!

Melinda Hammond

Friday, January 05, 2018

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': Rules of Precedence


The importance of precedence is a major theme in Jane Austen’s last novel Persuasion, and this post looks at the ramifications of this. Persuasion’s opening scene shows Sir Walter Elliot’s perusal of the Baronetage, the most important book in his library, which charts the lineage of the Elliot family from its first mention in Sir William Dugdale’s Baronetage of England (1675-6) until Sir Walter's own entry in the 1790s.
 

The Importance of the Family Tree
 


Sir Walter has no sons, and his heir is a distant male relation. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, shares his feelings about the importance of the Elliots and they get on well. However, he rates his two younger daughters 'of very inferior value.’  Mary, the youngest, has acquired ‘a little artificial importance by becoming Mrs Charles Musgrove,’ but Anne, the middle daughter and the book’s heroine, is ‘nobody with either father or sister.’

I found myself wondering how the sisters themselves viewed their social status. The snobbish Elizabeth is content to walk ‘immediately after Lady Russell out of all the drawing rooms and dining-rooms in the country.’ What is important is that Elizabeth is the eldest daughter of a baronet – an inherited title. This ranks above Lady Russell’s title; she is the widow of a knight, the next down in rank, a title given by the monarch for life only. The only reason that Lady Russell precedes Elizabeth, is that she is married and Elizabeth is not.

However, the fact that Elizabeth, Anne and Mary are daughters of a baronet means that they are entitled to various social privileges.

Mary, (Mrs Charles Musgrove) is acutely aware of this and resents not being afforded her due when visiting her in-laws, the unpretentious Mr and Mrs Musgrove of Uppercross Hall. She constantly complains to Anne that her mother-in-law ‘was very apt not to give her the precedence that was her due when they dined at the Great House with other families’. Correctly speaking, Mary, being a daughter of a baronet, has precedence over her mother-in-law.


As one of her sisters-in-law says to Anne, ‘Nobody doubts her right to have precedence of mamma, but it would be more becoming in her not to be always insisting on it.’ One can only agree.  Anne, we note, never thinks of putting herself forward in such a way.  

Even though Anne is the middle daughter, she is below Mary in the social scale as she is unmarried. Mary, as the only married daughter is now above both her sisters – though I can’t see the snooty Elizabeth allowing Mary to take precedence over her. 

There is a scene in Lyme, where Mary is staying after her sister-in-law Louisa’s accident, which illuminates this. Mrs Musgrove, Louisa’s mother, has come down to do what she can to help. Initially, her hostess, Mrs Harville, gives the elder Mrs Musgrove the precedence. Mary is put out. Fortunately, she receives ‘so very handsome an apology from (Mrs Harville) on finding out whose daughter she was,’ that her self-importance is satisfied – especially as Mrs Harville thenceforward gives Mary the precedence that is her due. Whew!


But what of Anne? She has none of the Elliot self-importance. When she goes to stay with Mary at Uppercross Cottage, she is perfectly happy to pay an unceremonious call on the elder Mr and Mrs Musgrove at the Great House. Correctly, they should be deferential and call on her first. But Anne says, ‘I would never think of standing on ceremony with people I know so well as Mr and Mrs Musgrove.’

Mary, however, disagrees. ‘Oh, but they ought to call on you as soon as possible. They ought to feel what is due to you as my sister.’ 

Anne’s reaction on meeting Captain Wentworth’s friends, the hospitable Harvilles, is one of delight (Mary, by contrast, notes that they have only one maid). ‘There was so much attachment to Captain Wentworth in all this, and such a bewitching  charm in a degree of hospitality so uncommon, so unlike the usual style of give and take invitations, and dinners of formality and display… These would have been my friends,’ was her thought; and she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness.’ 
 
This is one of her lowest points; she has now seen, with her own eyes, she sort of life she might have had with Captain Wentworth; one of warmth and affection, and without the cold pomp and ceremony of life in her father’s house -  if she hadn’t broken off their engagement eight years ago.

But Anne has yet more trials to face; she must go to Bath, to her father’s smart and fashionable house in Camden Place, and leave Captain Wentworth behind, not knowing if they will ever meet again or whether he will propose to Louisa.


 
The letter scene
 

We see Anne once more ignoring the dictates of her upbringing, and the disapproval of her father, when she visits her old and sick school friend, Mrs Smith. Her father is outraged: 'A mere Mrs Smith ... to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland!'

But it is this renewal of friendship which helps Anne to be proactive and take the steps necessary for her own future happiness. No-one else will do it for her. Mary and Elizabeth, in their different ways, expect Anne to give way to their own convenience. And Lady Russell values rank more than she ought.

One of the things I love about Persuasion, is that Lady Russell has to do a 180 degree turn in her thinking, and Mary and Elizabeth both get their comeuppance when Anne marries Captain Wentworth.
 
 
Anne, restored to the rights of seniority, and the mistress of a very pretty landaulette
 
Mary, who in her way is fond of Anne, finds it creditable to have a sister married, and ‘it was very agreeable that the captain should be richer than either of her sisters-in-law’s husbands.’ But she is a bit put out to realize that Anne’s marriage means that she, Anne, is restored to the rights of seniority. As the eldest married daughter, Anne now ranks above Elizabeth as well as Mary. Elizabeth’s reaction to the news of Anne’s engagement to Captain Wentworth is to be ‘cold and unconcerned.’

And, as a final thought, we might remember that Jane Austen herself was a second daughter and, by precedence, right at the bottom of her family’s social order. She is asking her readers to consider just what Mary, say, has ever done to warrant being given precedence. The answer, of course, is nothing.

And we might ask the same questions of any number of her characters: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for example, or Maria Bertram. There is plenty of food for thought for discerning readers here.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

 
      

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The fun of discovering names to use for character titles and surnames

I’ve spoken before of my obsession with names. Agonising over what title to use and what surnames to bestow upon my characters is another time-wasting phenomenon chez Bailey.

Really, I could just pick any name to go with the chosen Christian names. But not a bit of it. When beginning a book, I pore through my various sources and not only name the main characters, but make lists which I can dip into for minor characters who are bound to pop up. I need aristocratic sounding names for titles as well as names that will sound well on a valet, butler, maid or footman, or a shopkeeper. Perhaps a Bow Street Runner.

Names have got to suit the character, and very often their occupation too. So not just any name will do. The fact that it gives me so much pleasure to choose names is merely by the way, of course. Once chosen, though, it makes sense to check any name applied to the main titled characters against Google search, in case it turns out to be a real title currently in use.

I have three sources for surnames. Following the tradition set by Georgette Heyer, the main one is an old Road Atlas of the British Isles. 

An absolute treasure trove of wonderful names that roll off the tongue and are just a joy to pronounce. Just check out this little corner of one page of said Atlas.

Can’t you just see the characters popping up?
Miss Wimpstone, the governess
Marston, the butler
Paxford, the landlord of the inn, or he might be a groom
Lady Honeybourne, the dotty great-aunt
Viscount Idlicote, the annoying suitor the heroine can’t get rid of
Annabella Darlingscott, the reigning belle who is waspish and jealous of our heroine

See what I mean? Any more of this and I’ll have to excuse myself to go off and write the story.

For my next trick, there’s the invaluable Leslie Dunkling Guiness Book of Names. He’s got a wealth of wonderful surnames listed by county. Here’s the list for Oxfordshire.

I’ve already got Miss Flook from this list – she’s my widow’s companion in the current Regency Romantics anthology story, Widow in Mistletoe. Pegler is my lady’s maid in an upcoming Lady Fan. And I’ve got a definite hankering to use Bubb, Croome and Stinchcombe. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used Tuffley, but Gazard and Wintle are calling to me as well.

My last source is the fabulous Stufflebeem, Brockway & Sturt, by Shelley Keen (see top image). This gem of a book gives the origins of names, which can help with character as well as simply providing lists of names alphabetically. This comes in handy when I’m in danger of having too many names starting with the same letter. I can locate an unused letter and browse through that list to find a name that fits. 

The only name from this snippet from the book I’ve used is Lord Hetherington, the hero of the third in my Brides by Chance series, Knight for a Lady.

As an illustration of how fascinating and useful a map can be, I give you the bluestocking set in my wip, Taming the Vulture (Book 10 in the Brides by Chance series). These were picked wholesale and are genuine double-barrelled names of towns.

Pelham Ferneux, the handsome, showy literary type who actually produces next to nothing
Moreton Pinckney, the critic who panned my hero’s last work of poetry
Stanford Dingley, the historian and friend of my hero
Carleton Rode, the respected essayist
Aspatria Glasson, the champion of the rights of women

Honestly, could I have thought these up by myself? I rest my case.

Elizabeth Bailey

Friday, December 15, 2017

Regency, WW2 and 2017 - How Christmas has changed.


 In the Regency the lesser folk would have been fortunate to have anything different to eat at Christmas. However, those with money and status might well have celebrated in style.
If one was lucky one would be invited to a house party arriving before 21st December. A Yule log would be brought in but the greenery would not be put up until 24th. Christmas Day one would attend church and eat a turkey dinner. Similar to today -although I doubt many attend a service nowadays. Gifts were not given until 6th January -but not in the excess we see today.

The first Christmas of WW2  - 1939 - was the same as any other. Paper decorations, tinsel and candles on a tree, and a stocking for the children. However, there would be one present under the tree - not dozens. As the war progressed and rationing and shortages kicked in, the population did their best, but children would be lucky to get more than a few homemade gifts.
A chicken would be a luxury for many, especially those living in the cities. Country folk fared better as they could grow their own vegetables, keep chickens, and often had a shared interest in a pig.



How different it is today. The shops are full of festive things from September and families borrow money they can't afford to make sure their children don't feel disappointed on Christmas Day.
We all spend far too much, buy too much, and over indulge. I love the decorations, look out for doors with wreaths and lights outside, and enjoy peering into front windows at brightly decorated Christmas trees.
I am not religious, but love the nativity story.
myBook.to/ChristmasRegency
For me it's a time for being generous in kind and in spirit, for reaching out to old friends and being close to family.

I wrote a light-hearted Christmas novella, Christmas at Devil's Gate in two weeks in order to give something to my readers. It's priced at $0.99 & £0.99 and is available on Amazon.

I wish you all a happy holiday, merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Fenella J Miller
 








Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas, Advertising and.... Biggles!


Léon-François Comerre - The Flower Seller
CHRISTMAS is a time when we are besieged with advertisements. Things to buy, things to eat, programmes to watch.  This week I have been thinking about advertising, how we market our wares, and how that has changed over the centuries.





Shopkeepers have always used signs outside their premises to attract custom, as can be seen in this print by Hogarth (below). At one time, signs hanging over the streets were banned, because of the danger of them falling down and causing injury.

And those with trades to sell might also place ad advertisement in a newspaper, like this lovely, short piece in the London Evening Post in 1746. It appears Mr Grainger promise to teach pupils to "write well in a Month"(many of us would be pleased to have such guarantees in education today!).





The advent of moving pictures early last century was an exciting development in entertainment, and it wasn't long before advertisers recognised the potential. Who doesn't remember sitting through "Pearl & Dean" while waiting for the big picture to start?


Television gave advertisers the opportunity to bring their products right into the home, and boy, did it become an art form! For a while (until modern technology made it possible to fast-forward through the breaks) adverts were in danger of taking over from the main event- indeed, some were much better than the programmes they interrupted (although possibly not the one shown here).


Books have never been subject to quite such a hard sell. After all, as readers we like to take our time and browse, don't we? But authors  want to get the message out there, so they have to advertise, too, and we do. Via our publishers, or personally, via social media.  But it's not new.
This came home to me earlier this week, when I was trying(unsuccessfully) to reduce the number of books on my overcrowded shelves.  As a girl I fell in love with Capt W E Johns' flying ace, Biggles, and my collection of Biggles books has remained with me ever since. For years I spent my hard-earned pocket money on Biggles books, reprints like this...

....or second hand copies, purchased room an Aladdin's cave of a bookshop on the historic Christmas Steps in Bristol.  It was in one of these old books, a 1950s edition of "Biggles Works it Out", that I found a note from Capt Johns himself.   It had been fitted into the front of the book, whether by the publisher or by the book's original owner I do not know, but here is the note .








Perhaps it is because I am now an author myself, and battling constantly with demands of modern media, but this really struck a chord with me. It makes that personal, direct appeal to the reader, just as we are urged to do today.
This book, along with its message, is going to remain on my shelves for a long time to come.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and happy reading.

 
Melinda Hammond

You can read my homage to the WWII flying aces in my short story, myBook.to/AndtheStarsShineDown




Or, if you want a little Christmas treat, you might like The Duke's Christmas Bride. myBook.to/DukesChristmasBride






Thursday, November 30, 2017

The value of Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion


One of the most important aspects of writing historical romance is depicting the clothes. My bible is Cunnington’s Handbook of English Costume. I have the 18th century, the 19th and also the book on the medieval period. She is incredibly detailed and you get the full picture of what both men and women wore from top to toe, including changes throughout the century. It is immensely useful, but the illustrations are limited.

What helps me is seeing actual drawings of fashion from the time and my favourite of the fashion plates is Heideloff. His coloured drawings also cover my particular choice of period.

From Sacheverell Sitwell’s introduction to my book of Heideloff and Ackermann fashion plates, we learn that Heideloff’s were the first publications of coloured prints of English fashions, preceding Ackermann and La Belle Assemblée, which began in 1806. Earlier ones were French. But post the Revolution, English fashions began to predominate over French in England, and even crossed the Channel.


Heideloff was born in Germany, into a family of painters and engravers, but gravitated to Paris in 1784 in the service of a German duke. He left him and painted miniatures for a living. He fled to England as an émigré and in 1794 began the Gallery of Fashion, which appeared every month until 1802. Apparently there were 251 coloured plates done altogether.

What I love about Heideloff’s drawings is the fullness of the gowns, often with so much movement in them you can almost see the scene alive.



A lot of them are set in wonderful backgrounds and there are often two or three women together and sometimes children, usually doing something: reading, chatting, driving, riding, hurrying along or dawdling.

Although my book has quite a few plates, it’s not nearly as interesting as the images I’ve downloaded. There are few copies of the original Heideloff extant, but a Japanese university has very kindly put their entire collection online. You can even get permission to use one on covers for a reasonable fee.






But what I find so valuable is the descriptions of the clothes. These I can lift and use, adapting them a little to be understood by my readers. Each plate is accompanied by a page describing the entirety of each outfit, even to the hats and shoes, and of course it gives an excellent flavour of the time and a completely accurate depiction with the correct terminology. I have not personally come across any other fashion plate as comprehensive and detailed.



Take the image of a woman reading by the sea. It’s called Watering Place. Note the huge background scene. And if you read the description below, you can follow just what it meant by the words used. A handkerchief, for example, is not the square of linen we would suppose. That was called a pocket handkerchief. There’s “tucker” and “riband” and “petticoat” - not what we mean by the latter.

If you look at the descriptions of the morning dresses in the windy day above, you’ll see how even the way the hair is dressed is given: “the hair in bushy curls in front, the hind hair turned up into a chignon” and “the hair curled round the face; the hind hair in loose ringlets”.

There must be sixty odd of these images I downloaded, and I didn’t do the lot. Fortunately one is allowed to grab them for personal use only, and thus my readers are treated to snippets of the real thing.

As an interesting research aside, I learned that fashion colourists did their drawings inside the premises of the modistes, from the actual clothes. As close a representation as you can get!


Elizabeth Bailey

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Religious Season in Georgian Britain

We all know that Georgette Heyer was the founder of the Regency romance genre as we know it. Yes, there were certainly others, but nobody else enjoyed her level of success, then or now. However, subsequent studies have shown that Georgette was not infallible, not least in the attitudes she brought to her stories. In many ways the manners and morals are the ones from Georgette’s childhood, or from the novels of Jane Austen. Austen was very much a writer of the upper middle class, not the upper class, and in a particular part of the country, so she can’t be taken as typical of all Regency manners and morals.
Of course most authors bring a lot of themselves into a story. However, Georgette brings one omission that many subsequent writers have overlooked – religion.
I’m not going to talk about beliefs, or the developments of the new kinds of Christianity, but about how the religious year affected high society. We are, to a great extent, a secular society, and religion is a matter of personal choice, but back then religion made up a large part of the social year. Not to mention the legal one (a subject for another post!) Everybody attended church every Sunday, or they faced a fine for not doing so, and most households started with family prayers, often led by the householder. Every village had its church, and churches abounded in the burgeoning cities, so they inevitably became centres of society, where people met and gossiped after the service.
Regency society was Christian, specifically Anglican, with a few Church of Scotland and Catholic members. The monarch was the Head of the Church (and still is!) and non-Anglicans were restricted by law from many professions. So when we look at the Season from the viewpoint of secular society, we only get a partial picture. The Church was heavily incorporated into the constitution, with bishops and archbishops forming the Lords Spiritual, an important component of the House of Lords. The aristocracy were the Lords Temporal, and the two often combined by being members of the same family. The most important universities were run by men with spiritual qualifications. Society wasn’t so much about belief as it was about belonging.
Heyer assumed that the Season, the part of the year that roughly covers the spring, was the only one that mattered for the aristocracy. We known now that wasn’t true, and while the “little season” in the autumn didn’t exist by name, it did in reality. The aristocracy came to town in the autumn for the opening of Parliament and to conduct parliamentary business. Of course their families often accompanied them! Important politicians might base most of their year in London, and go to their country houses in the summer, when Parliament was not in session. Back in the spring, when Parliament came back.
But there was more to it than that. Add in another component and the Regency year makes a lot more sense. The religious component.
In the Regency people observed two other seasons – Lent and Advent. The forty days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter and the three weeks before Christmas Day were for fasting, sacrifice and contemplation. Perhaps more importantly for society, churches were not allowed to be decorated, clerics wore relatively simple robes, and celebratory events like weddings were not held.
What was the point of landing a duke if you couldn’t celebrate the union? While marriages were relatively private affairs, especially when compared to today’s shindigs, the wedding breakfast and the balls afterwards more than made up for it. And many clerics were loath to conduct wedding ceremonies during these periods. Most refused to conduct them at all, and they were certainly deterred or ordered not to hold them, by order of the bishops.
Society would not hold grand balls and great displays during Lent or Advent either. It would be considered shockingly disrespectful. They might have smaller gatherings like dinners, but these periods of the year might also provide useful breathers. Theatres were closed, as were other places of entertainment, and there were no Drawing Rooms at court.
So now we have a clearer idea of the seasons. Society might come to town any time after the end of September, when the shooting season was fading. Then they’d retire during Lent, probably to their country houses, and return (weather permitting) in January. Not all of society came to London in the early part of the year, but would wait until after Lent, at the end of March to mid-April, depending on the moveable feast that was Easter. Then, after Easter Monday, it was all go, with balls and presentations at court, and the rest of the merry-go-round, until the summer house parties began at the end of June, and the aristocracy moved out.
Some families preferred to use their power bases in the country for the majority of the year, and this is evinced by the closing of the huge London mansions, and the consequent aggrandisements of the country estate. But a few others stayed in London.
But by ignoring the religious year, an important component is missing.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

RAF Slang in WW2

I have been fascinated by the terms used in the RAF during the war. I wonder how many of them you recognize and how many of them you actually understand the meaning of.
I have a wonderful little book entitled A Dictionary of RAF Slang by Eric Partridge - it was first published in 1945 by Joseph but this edition is by Pavilion Books, 1990.
Some of you might have used the term 'erk ' as in the phrase 'he's an erk' - meaning a bit of a nuisance.
It comes from  -air mechanic/ air mech/airmch/airch/erk.  I can't see how it evolved into this - but there you are. Sometimes incorrectly used as 'oik'
A plane is called a kite - it used to be, in WW1, a bus or a crate.
What about, 'He's gone for a Burton'. I always thought it was something to do with the men's outfitters. No - it's actual meaning is that someone has gone for a beer - Burton was a well known name for a pale ale. It was used to say someone had died.
We have 'to shoot down in flames' 'to shoot down from a great height' and 'to shoot a line'. All in common usage and all taken from RAF aerial warfare.
The first two mean  to defeat someone in an argument and the last to boast.
We use 'sprogs' for children today but it comes from RAF meaning a new recruit.
Here are a few  - see if you can guess what they refer to. Answers at the bottom of the page.
1. attaboy
2.the bishop
3. blood wagon
4.bus driver
5. daisy cutter
6. flap
7.fruit salad
8.genned up
9.hop the twig
10 jump on the binders
11.milk train
12.nursemaids
13.the pigs are up
14.ringmaster
15.scramble

Do you remember the Monty Python sketch with two RAF pilots? Miller and Armstrong did something similar too. One comes in and says:
'Top hole! Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how's your father. Hairy blighter, dickie birdied, feathered back on his Sammy, took a waspie....'
Sounds genuine - but is total gibberish . No one in the RAF talked exclusively in slang any more than we do today. They used just enough to separate them from those not part of the service.
This is second book in series - will be out in March next year.


Answers -but not in correct order- not going to make it too easy for you
an aerial battle/ the padre/barrage balloons/fully informed/ATA pilot/put on the brakes/died/major event/fighter escort/bomber pilot/medals/early morning patrol/squadron leader/ambulance/excellent landing
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Jane Austen’s novels: by her contemporaries

I want to look at what three of Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her novels: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the inventor of the historical novel, nick-named the ‘the Wizard of the North’ for his spell-binding stories; Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince Regent, who died in childbirth; and Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), author of Jane Eyre. Miss Brontë was one year old when Jane Austen died. But she has some interesting things to say, so I’ve allowed her to remain.

 


Sir Walter Scott’s marble bust by Sir Francis Chantry, 1841, National Portrait Gallery

We are indebted to John Lockhart, Scott’s friend and biographer, for an insight into what that best-selling novelist had to say about Jane Austen. On March 14, 1826, Scott wrote: Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
 
What did he mean by ‘the Big Bow-wow strain’? The 10th Earl of Pembroke wrote of Dr Samuel Johnson (he of the famous Dictionary), ‘Dr Johnson’s sayings would not appear so extraordinary, were it not for his bow-wow way.’ I also came across another 18th century reference to the ‘bow-wow’ sound of trumpets and drums. So I think we can take it to mean ‘a touch bombastic’.
 

 
 

Scott wrote stirring tales of battles and deeds of derring-do, which was not Jane Austen’s style. But it’s good to know that Scott was a real fan and appreciated and admired her qualities.

As he wrote in his diary, on 18th September, 1827: Smoked my cigar with Lockhart after dinner, and then whiled away the evening over one of Miss Austen’s novels. There is a truth of painting in her writings which always delights me. They do not, it is true, get above the middle classes of society, but there she is inimitable.
 

The stone marking the site of Princess Charlotte’s mausoleum: 'My Charlotte is Gone', Prince Leopold

Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was another Austen fan. She enjoyed what she called ‘studdy’ (her spelling was erratic) and read widely, perhaps borrowing books from her father’s library at Carlton House – and we know that he bought Jane Austen’s novels. Or, perhaps it was a birthday present for her sixteenth birthday on January 6th. Whichever it was, on 22nd January, 1812, Princess Charlotte wrote to her friend, Miss Mercer Elphinstone: ‘Sence and Sencibility (sic) I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, and you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne and me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, etc., however remain very like. I must say it interested me very much.’  

It’s easy to sympathize with Charlotte’s identification with the passionate and impulsive seventeen-year-old Marianne, who is just the sort of character to appeal a lonely and romantic-minded girl, whose life, up to that point, had been pretty miserable. Perhaps Charlotte hoped that, like Marianne, she, too, would find love. Alas, her story ended tragically, for she died in childbirth aged only twenty-one.

 


Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond, chalk, 1850, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte Brontë’s reaction to Jane Austen’s novels is very different.Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point,’ she wrote to the Victorian man of letters, George H. Lewes, who had been pushing them at her. ‘And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, high-cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.´
When I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s energetic walk to see her ill sister at Netherfield, ‘crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and spring over puddles, with impatient activity; and finding herself at last within view of the house with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise,’ I find myself wondering if we’re talking about the same author.
Charlotte has more complaints. ‘Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works.’

Look at Marianne Dashwood’s reaction on getting Willoughby’s letter repudiating their relationship. ‘Misery such as mine has no pride, I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world… I must feel - must be wretched…’ Surely, Charlotte Brontë cannot interpret such a passionate outpouring as cool and unfeeling.
 
Later, Elinor notes that,‘No attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body Marianne) moved from one posture to another, till, growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all…’
 
Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen, stipple engraving, published 1870, National Portrait Gallery
 
And what about Anne Elliot, in Persuasion; mentally comparing her cousin Mr Elliot with Captain Wentworth? She thinks: ‘Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, - but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil of good of others. To Anne, this was a decided imperfection.’ Charlotte would surely have agreed. 
 
I fear that Charlotte was blinded by prejudice. Once she’d decided that Jane Austen’s novels were limited in their emotional range, she refused to look deeper. Austen’s novels  might have no mad wife in the attic, as Charlotte does in Jane Eyre, but don’t tell me that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or the unpleasant Mrs Norris, or General Tilney, weren’t quite as destructive of Elizabeth, Fanny or Catherine’s comfort in their own way.    

I rest my case.
Photos of Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Elizabeth Hawksley
 

Monday, October 30, 2017

A lady’s sketch paintings reveal the realities of Regency life

Among my research books is a delightful book called Mrs Hurst Dancing, which is a collection of watercolours by one Diana Sperling, who lived at Dynes Hall near Halstead in Essex. This large country house along with its surroundings is the setting for the sketches she made between 1816 and 1823 where she lived with her parents, brothers and sister Isabella.

What I love about it is the insight it gives us to the reality of how people lived in those days. There are a great many outdoor scenes which show how the countryside must have looked then, and Diana has drawn her family and acquaintances riding, driving, walking, fishing, skating and a great many other activities, in all kinds of weather.

The sketches are often amusing, as well as telling, with people falling off their mounts – donkeys and horses both, carriages coming to grief, people falling into mud and streams, leaping ditches on horseback. The family might go to an evening party on foot, braving the mud and carrying their indoor shoes, or they would go divided among a single carriage and several horses. Even the ladies went on horseback to a party!

The title of the book comes from one sketch called Mrs Hurst Dancing, but almost all of the sketches have hand-written notes to say who the people are and what they are doing. Interestingly, Diana writes of her mother as “Mum” and her father as “Pappy”, but the Sperlings were local landowners and, as it says in the introduction, “might be said to belong to the ranks of the substantial gentry, the sort of well-to-do squires who dominated village affairs”. These families were “untitled but locally prominent”. They might originate as younger sons of greater families or spring from “cadet” branches of the aristocracy.

Leaving the outdoors for another day, I’ve chosen some indoor sketches that show unusual activities on the domestic front. They also depict the rooms as they must have been, fairly open and without much furniture. Rugs rather than carpets, and the pet dog and cat usually present.

Right at the top, we have the hilarious “Mrs Sperling murdering flies – assisted by her maid who received the dead and wounded. Dynes Hall.” I love the mirror and the looped curtains at the windows.

Here we have “Papering the saloon at Tickford Park, September 2nd 1816”. The Van Hagen family, who were relations, owned this house and Diana was clearly helping to paper the walls while on a visit.

Here we are again at the Van Hagens with “Mrs Van murdering a spider, September 10th 1816, Tickford.” The ladies are dressing when the spider interrupts the proceedings.









Finally, I could not resist putting in this one, with the splendid staircase and lovely balusters. But the action is wonderful.

“May 25th. Henry Van electrifying – Mrs Van, Diana, Harry, Isabella, Mum and HGS. Dynes Hall.” I gather the object was to turn the electrifying machine strongly enough for everyone who joined hands to get a shock! Fun for all, no doubt, though I suspect the sensation was a mild one.


Elizabeth Bailey