“We are happy to see Edward, it was an unexpected pleasure, & he makes himself as agreeable as ever, sitting in such a quiet comfortable way making his delightful little sketches.” Jane Austen to Caroline Austen, 23 January 1817
What ‘CAN’ a loyal Janeite begin to say about a book whose creation involved so much Austen Royalty that I was obliged to curtsey when I opened the parcel from the post. Every hand engaged in Life in the Country is an Austen blueblood from editors Freydis Welland (great, great, great grandniece of Jane Austen) and Eileen Sutherland (Austen scholar and former President of the Jane Austen Society of North America), to contributors Maggie Lane, (author, Austen scholar and former Secretary of the Jane Austen Society), to Joan Klingle Ray, (author and first academic President of the Jane Austen Society of North America), to Joan Austen-Leigh (Austen descendent and co-founder of the Jane Austen Society of North America) all heightening my anticipation with a sense of awe and wonder. And to that a stunningly beautiful presentation of Victorian era silhouette art created by Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh enhanced by eloquent Jane Austen quotations and you have a masterpiece of Austenalia.
As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles.
Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, Chapter 6
Not wishing to diminish their wonderful achievement in any way, I must point out that editors Freydis Welland and Eileen Sutherland had great material to start with. The beautiful silhouettes created by James Edward Austen-Leigh for the enjoyment of his family in the 1830’s are quite lovely. Exhibiting great style and skill in execution, the scenes that he chose reflect the English countryside through hunting, fishing, harvesting, animals and people engaged in activities that would have encompassed their country lives. It seems a perfect pairing to add Jane Austen’s quotes from her letters and novels which she admittedly preferred involving “three or four families in a country village.” Here is one of my favorites images from the book coupled with a quote by Elizabeth Bennet when she comes upon Mr. Darcy and his two sisters walking through the shrubberies in Netherfield Park.
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly group’d, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.”
Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter 10
The text includes a preface by the editors, a biography of the Austen family by Maggie Lane, an essay on silhouette art by Joan Klingle Ray and an afterward on James Edward Austen-Leigh by Joan Austen-Leigh adding just the right amount of information to support the images and the interesting history behind them. Any Jane Austen enthusiast or collector of silhouette art will be thrilled and honored to include this lovely volume in their library. Happily, it continues the tradition in the Austen-Leigh family to publish a book based on their unique family heritage.
Life in the Country
with quotations by Jane Austen & silhouettes by James Edward Austen-Leigh
Edited by Freydis Welland and Eileen Sutherland
The British Library, London (2008)