Stephanie Barron Featured on NPR

Statue of King George III in Weymouth, England

Author, and friend of Austenprose, Stephanie Barron has contributed an online article in the “Three Books” series on NPR. Which books did she choose? Why Regency-era of course.

In Three Books, Two Centuries And One English Regency, Barron highlights: Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, And Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar,  by Adam Nicolson; The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, by Alessandro Barbero; and Persuasion, by Jane Austen.

Stephanie is famous for her Being a Jane Austen Mystery series of ten (soon to be eleven) novels featuring Jane Austen as a sleuth. We are reading the entire series this year in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 right here on Austenprose. You can check out my reviews through the 8th book and other participants reviews posted here. Stephanie’s next book in the series, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, arrives next Tuesday, August 30th, 2011! We are presently reading it and are enchanted.

Stephanie’s three books are all very interesting choices to highlight an era that we all love so dearly — but, Gentle Reader, what would you have selected? Mine would have been…

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

In Memory of Jane Austen ~ July 18, 1817 (via Jane Austen in Vermont)

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont commemorates the passing of Jane Austen 194 years ago today. R.I.P. gilder of every pleasure.

In Memory of Jane Austen ~ July 18, 1817 [I append here the post I wrote last year on this day] July 18, 1817.  Just a short commemoration on this sad day… No one said it better than her sister Cassandra who wrote I have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,- She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself…” (Letters, … Read More

via Jane Austen in Vermont

Vic at Jane Austen’s World remembers Jane Austen’s life with a book giveaway of In the Garden with Jane Austen.

You can also read my previous posts of Jane Austen’s passing:

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Follow Friday: The Royal Wedding on BBC America

William and Kate Royal engagement 2010Since Jane Austen always ended her novels with a wedding or two, we thought we would be remiss if we did not mention the Royal Wedding of Catherine Middleton to HRH Prince William at Westminster Abbey in London today.  Approximately 2 billion viewers around the world will be tuning in to watch the five and a half hours of commercial free coverage being broadcast live on BBC America. We will be one of them.

For Royal watchers this will be the event of the decade and many will be setting their alarm clocks for 3:00 am Eastern and 12:00 am Pacific time here in the US to watch the glitz, glamour and the reveal of the wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. For anyone who remembers the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and HRH Prince Charles in 1981, it is well worth the loss of sleep. No one does weddings with more pomp and style than the British. We are sure that every milliner in the UK has been laboring away on the perfect bonnet for the occasion for months.  We only wish we had planned ahead and taken the day off of work.

Lady Diana Spencer and HRH Prince Charles Royal Wedding 1981

For those who miss the live Kate and Wills action, there are bound to be re-runs and highlights shown online and on TV for days, and you can pre-order the official DVD from BBC America which will be available on May 24th. And, for those of you who would like to explore the one thousand years of Royal Wedding history, from William the Conquer to Kate and Wills, we highly recommend Emily Brand’s new condensed volume Royal Weddings published by Shire Libraries. Here is the publisher’s blurb:

Royal Weddings, by Emily Brand (2011)With the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton this April, Shire Publications offers Royal Weddings, the perfect primer on Britain’s rich nigh-millennial history of kingly couplings and the ideal accompaniment to the aforementioned must-see event of the twenty-first century.

Royal Weddings traces the evolution of matrimonial majesty from the politically charged, relatively austere, private affairs which dominate much of English history, to the grandiose extravaganza of Prince Charles’s and Diana’s union in 1981. Over time, British royal weddings have become the standard by which all other wedding ceremonies are compared.

The book abounds with eye-opening details and interesting stories, such as how King Henry VIII’s marital vows—“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part…”— have been paradigmatic ever since; or the touching account of the 15th century monarch, Edward IV, who married beneath him and had to keep his marriage to a poor soldier’s widow a secret.

Even with nearly a thousand years of British royalty to cover, author Emily Brand deftly keeps from wallowing in a mire of historical pedantry. Instead, she has culled together exquisitely fascinating facts and anecdotes and presents her discoveries in a lively and inquisitive tone. Her account of the 1625 wedding of King Charles I—for which the monarch wasn’t even present (he sent a surrogate for the lavish affair held at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris), reads as if she herself was present at the scurrilous event.

Royal Weddings is a sleek 56 pages volume, generously enhanced with 60 full-color pieces of rare art and photos that go beyond traditional wedding pictures and add to the guilty, yet informative, pleasure of the book. There are examples of elaborate decorations, feasts and wedding cakes; ornate jewelry, commemorative medallions and other unique items; wedding dresses and evolving fashions; marriage certificates, announcements, menu cards and other juicy particulars; even the nullification document of King Henry VIII’s short-lived marriage to Anne of Cleves, who Henry believed was misrepresented in the picture he was shown of her before agreeing to the coupling.

About the Author

Emily Brand is a writer and historian with a special interest in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England. She has written widely on domestic and family life for a number of history and genealogy magazines, including publications from BBC Magazines Bristol, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and the National Archives. She is also an author for history society London Historians, of which she has been made an honorary member.

Wedding of Prince George and Princess Caroline 1795

The most infamous wedding of Jane Austen’s era was the disastrous union of George, The Prince of Wales (later George IV) to his first cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8 April 1795 at The Chapel Royal at St. James. Forced into an arranged marriage by his father King George III and Parliament, who pledged to pay off his debts, the Prince arrived for the ceremony “in his cups” stumbling up the aisle supported by the Dukes of Bedford and Roxborough. When no one objected to the proceedings, the Prince tried to escape and then sobbed openly. Jane Austen had a very low opinion of Prinny and his outrageous lifestyle, and for good reason. He openly cheated on his wife, ran up astronomical debts and plummeted the reputation of the British monarchy to the depths of despair by dragging his failed marriage through divorce court. Let’s hope that Wills and Kate have a happier life together.

4th Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters Due Out in November

Jane Austens Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition (2011)Exciting news for Janeites! Deirdre Le Faye’s incredible scholarship on Jane Austen and her family continues in this new edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Many will be thrilled to learn that this 4th edition not only includes a new cover, but updates! Here is the description from Oxford University Press:

Jane Austen’s letters afford a unique insight into the daily life of the novelist: intimate and gossipy, observant and informative–they read much like the novels themselves. They bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events, all with a freshness unparalleled in modern biographies. Most important, we recognize the unmistakable voice of the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We see the shift in her writing from witty and amusing descriptions of the social life of town and country, to a thoughtful and constructive tone while writing about the business of literary composition.

R.W. Chapman’s ground-breaking edition of the collected letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. A third edition, edited Deirdre Le Faye in 1997 added new material, re-ordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence, and provided discreet and full annotation to each letter, including its provenance, and information on the watermarks, postmarks, and other physical details of the manuscripts. This new fourth edition incorporates the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index.

Teachers, students, and fans of Jane Austen, at all levels, will find in these letters remarkable insight into one of the most popular novelists ever.

“These are the letters of our greatest novelist. They give glances and hints at her life from the age of 20 to her death at 41, the years in which she wrote her six imperishable books.”

–Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday

Features

  • An unparalleled and irresistible insight into the life of Jane Austen
  • A complete and accurate transcript of all Austen’s letters as known to date
  • Integrates the discoveries of recent Austen scholarship to reveal more about her life and family
  • 2011 marks the bicentenary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of Austen’s novels to appear in print

About the Author

Deirdre Le Faye , now retired, worked for many years in the Department of Medieval & Later Antiquities at the British Museum. She started researching the life and times of Jane Austen and her family in the 1970s, and since then has written several books about them, the latest being A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family 1600-2000 , as well as numerous articles in literary journals.

The bit that really got my attention was the incorporation of new scholarship and a new preface. Huzzah!

Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye
Oxford University Press (2011)
Hardcover (688) pages
ISBN: 9780199576074ISBN10

Due to be released on 1 November 2011

Follow Friday: The Regency Encyclopedia

The Regency Encyclopedia

Here’s a great Follow Firday recommendation for you. Regency history expert Sue Forgue writes to tell us of a wonderful announcement. Her website The Regency Encyclopedia is celebrating its 5th anniversary and has revealed several new enhancements to the Fashion Module. These include:

Fashion Glossary: This is the same database of definitions that powers the highlighted words in the fashion prints’ texts.  You can now search on these definitions without hunting through the fashion prints.

Research Fashion Palettes: Ever wonder what a color like morone looks like or what garments would be in that color? This database allows you to research the fashion palette colors by year (1800-1829) or by the color itself.  A couple of caveats to keep in mind: First, since the color swatches are html codes, your monitor will determine how they display, so at best, these can only be considered approximations. Second, each year’s fashion palette has been compiled from the original fashion print texts and other contemporary fashion articles. If a color shows up in one year and not another, it doesn’t mean the color wasn’t used, it only means that I don’t have any original source documentation for it.

Visit the Modiste Shop to Dress the Doll: Have some fun creating your own regency era outfit. This is the first of an eventual six dolls in the series. Pick the year and the applicable colors for each garment type will load. You can pick any combination of available colors and change them as much as you please before the doll is displayed. When you do, you’ll see the doll in a lovely setting with text incorporating your color choices written in the style of the fashion column in “La Belle Assemblée”.

In addition to these functions, the fashion prints database has been increased to almost 1,700 images thanks to the generous contributions of Vicky Hinshaw of Milwaukee and Jeanne Steen of Chicago.

Many thanks to Sue and her crew for the incredible information available to Austen fans and Regency history buffs. The site is password protected so please use this info for access. Enjoy!

User ID: JaneAusten
Password: brilliant1
(both are case sensitive)

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Regency-era English Christmas Pudding: American Fruitcake’s Kissin’ Cousin

Mrs. Beeton's Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding circa 1890s

I recently read the delightful Regency-era Christmas novel The Mischief of the Mistletoe, by Lauren Willig. Our hero Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh and heroine Arabella Dempsey are brought together by a Christmas pudding! Yep. A very creative ice-breaker to introduce and spark a romance, right?

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas, by Lauren Willig (2010)In 1803, Arabella is an instructor at Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, where “Turnip’s” sister Sally is a pupil. He is delivering her Christmas hamper to her and she in turn gives him a small muslin-wrapped and beribboned Christmas pudding which he proceeds to drop after barreling into to our heroine in the making in the hallway of the school. After profusely apologizing, he bounds out the door with Arabella in pursuit in an attempt to return the pudding to him:

“Mr. Fitzhugh?” she called after him, holding the small, muslin-wrapped parcel aloft. “Mr. Fitzhugh! You forgot your pudding!”

Blast. He didn’t seem to have heard her. Lifting her skirts, Arabella hurried down the short flight of steps. Mr. Fitzhugh, his legs longer that hers, was already some way down the street, making for a very flashy phaeton driven by a team of matched bays.

“Mr. Fitzhugh!” she called, waving the pudding in the air, when the second man in one day knocked the breath out of her by taking a flying leap at the pudding she held in her hand.

It must have been pure stubbornness that caused her to keep her grip, but as the man tugged, Arabella found herself tugging back. Harder.

“I need that pudding!” her growled. “Give it over.”

“No!” gasped Arabella, clinging to the muslin wrapper with all her might. People couldn’t just go about taking other people’s puddings. It was positively un-British.

Indeed! “Turnip” comes to her rescue, fending off her assailant and hauling her off the ground for a second time in a day. The Christmas pudding is slightly askew from its original round shape, but what puzzles her most is a piece of paper attached to it written in French. Is it a cryptic message? A clue? A joke? It is this mystery that draws them together and the catalyst to their adventure and eventual romance.

If you’d like to find out how it all turns out for Turnip and Arabella – today is the last day to enter a drawing for two free copies of The Mischief of the Mistletoe, by Lauren Willig. Contest details can be found here, or leave a comment in this post telling me your Christmas pudding stories!

Cooking the Christmas pudding (1848)

Making a Christmas pudding is quite a lengthy process involving a long list of ingredients. Here is a description of the boiling in a large “copper” during Victorian times.

A large cylindrical metal (often copper) container with a capacity of between 20 – 40 gallons (73-145 litres), sometimes encased in brick, under which a fire could be lit to heat the contents. Apart from the preparation of workhouse gruel, coppers were used for washing clothes and for heating large quantities of water. Since the copper was the largest container in the house it was also used at Christmas for boiling the Christmas pudding which tied inside a cloth, was immersed in the hot water. Charles Dickens World

The Christmas pudding has been a traditional treat in England for centuries. For those of us who did not grow up with it as a holiday season staple, here is a very brief history of the Christmas pudding from The English Tea Store, one of my favorite online retailers for those Anglophiles, like myself, who live thousands of miles away from the mother England!

Serving the Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding (because of the abundance of prunes), originated in England. It is traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. That day was often deemed “Stir-up Sunday,” and each family member or child in the household gave the pudding a stir and made a wish.

The rich and heavy pudding is boiled or steamed, made of a heavy mixture of fresh or dried fruit, nuts and sometimes suet, a raw beef or mutton fat. Vegetarian suet may also be used for a lighter taste. The pudding is very dark, almost black, and is saturated with brandy, dark beer, or other alcohols. The puddings used to be boiled in a “pudding cloth,” but today they are usually made in basins.

Many households stirred silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor) into the mixture, and when served, whoever got the lucky serving, would be able to keep the charm. When silver coins were not as readily available, the practice ended because people feared putting alloy coins in their pudding. Today small token coins and other objects are made just for this use.

After the pudding has been steamed, it is kept in a cool dry place for several weeks or longer. It will need steamed for a few more hours on the day it is served. There are different ways Christmas pudding is served. Some decorate it with a spray of holly, douse it in brandy or set it on fire. Many families present the pudding in the dark or bring it to the table ceremoniously, where it is met with a round of applause.

Christmas pudding is eaten with brandy butter, rum butter, hard sauce, cream, custard or with a caster sugar. Families sometimes save one pudding for another holiday, like Easter, or even the next Christmas. Many argue that this takes away from the flavor, but that a good pudding will keep that long.

Recipes for plum puddings appear mainly, if not entirely, in the seventeenth century and later. It was not until the 1830s that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, becoming more and more associated with Christmas. It appears that Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as ‘Christmas Pudding’ in her cookbook.

Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake

From childhood, my earliest Christmas food memories included a fruitcake that arrived every year by mail from my Great Aunt Margaret and Uncle Palmer. It came from the famous Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. Highly anticipated and greatly appreciated in our family,  I have never understood the ongoing jokes about their being only one fruitcake in the world that keeps being mailed away to relatives every year and never eaten. Not in my family!

So what’s the difference between an English Christmas pudding and an American fruitcake? They do contain many of the same ingredients: dried or candied fruits, nuts, and sometimes, wait for it… liquor and are both made weeks before eaten so the flavors can meld and the liquor can intoxicate the cake. From what I have gleaned over the years of taste testing, the difference between them is technique. The traditional English Christmas pudding is steamed and is very round in shape. I have read it described as a cannon ball! They are so moist that with the final addition of liquor on top, they can be dramatically flambéed (set on fire) and then brought flaming to the table with much pomp and ceremony, whereas, the American fruitcake is baked in round fancy cake or oblong loaf pans and the liquor is brushed on over weeks so it soaks in gradually. It is then sliced which reveals the glass window effect of the colorful candied fruits. In the gastronomical world, the American fruitcake is definitely the kissing cousin of the English Christmas pudding, though the Brits might disagree. We mustn’t dispute. They do have a few thousand years of Christmas traditions on us.

English Christmas pudding decorated with holly

I love fruitcake so much that for years I searched for and taste tasted dozens of recipes. I think I have found the perfect combination of tart fruit, sweet sugar, rich butter, crunchy nuts and fragrant liquor to “set me up forever.” The secret to my ultimate fruitcake is that I use dried golden fruits like apricots, pears, peaches, pineapple, papaya, golden raisins (no prunes or gooey candied fruits in my fruitcake, thank you very much) and soak them in really good quality bourbon for two weeks before baking the cake five weeks before you plan to eat it. It is a lot of work and very expensive – but, only the best things in life are!

PS. For all of you that are cringing over the thought of a sticky, gooey and overly sweet fruitcake brick that your Great Aunt Winifred sends every holiday season, I have good news. You can re-gift it to Cousin Harold in Poughkeepsie who you have not seen in twenty years, and order one of the many incredibly delectable varieties offered from Collin Street Bakery instead. They are worlds away from that bad-rap fruitcake that is circumnavigating the globe at this very moment. Or, you can sweet talk me into sharing my super-secret recipe and make one for yourself. I promise, it will not be around long enough to necessitate re-gifting.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all my readers. Now, go forth and eat your Christmas puddings and fruitcakes as more enlightened connoisseurs.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

© 2007-2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

(Disclaimer: Just in case the FTC has nothing else to do on Christmas Eve and is reading this blog, please do not be Scrooge and accuse me of being paid off by Collin Bakery to promote their fruitcakes. This is a true story. I did not make it up. I wrote about their great product without payment or free fruitcakes, though I would not turn one down if they offered! Who could?)