‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’: “Enamoured of the Picturesque at a Very Early Age”: William Gilpin and Jane Austen

Dovedale in the Peak district of Derbyshire from Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland etc, by William Gilpin (1786)

Gentle Readers: in celebration of the ‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’ event over the next month, I have asked several of my fellow Jane Austen bloggers to share their knowledge and interest in Austen’s most popular novel. Today, please welcome guest blogger Julie from Austenonly who shares with us her extensive knowledge of Regency culture and history in two posts during the event. Her second contribution is on travel writer William Gilpin whose influence upon Jane Austen is seen in Pride and Prejudice. Discover how she was able to describe the Derbyshire countryside even though she had never traveled there and why the use of the “picturesque” is a hidden joke in the plot.

Having read Henry Austen’s biographical notice of his sister, published in the posthumously printed first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, I knew from an early age, that Jane Austen was

enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque at a very early age…

and so when aged 15 I found a copy of his Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland in what was then one of my favourite haunts, a second-hand bookshop in Dr Johnson’s home city of Lichfield, I bought it  immediately…But now comes a confession…Prepare yourself for something very dreadful… I didn’t read it for another 20 years.

I thought it would be deadly boring.

How wrong I was.

I should have trusted Jane Austen’s taste and judgement, and realised exactly why she was enamoured of him…..but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explore his books and the reasons why I think she adored him, we ought properly to learn a little about William Gilpin’s life.

William Gilpin was born on 4 June 1724 near Carlisle, in Cumberland. He was the son of Captain John Bernard Gilpin and a Matilda Langstaffe . Captain Gilpin was considered to be one of the best amateur painters of the time, and this artistic talent seems to have passed through to the next generation, for William was obsessed with the correct way to view both pictures and landscape, and his younger brother, Sawrey Gilpin was to become a famous animal painter and indeed later contributed some illustrations to Williams books.

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Further Reading

Upcoming event posts

Day 17  July 10     Group Read: Chapters 50 – 56
Day 18  July 11     Top Ten P&P editions in print
Day 19  July 12     Music at the Netherfield Ball

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Sir Edward Denham’s Sentimental Stirrings about the Sea & Seduction

He began, in a tone of great taste and feeling, to talk of the sea and the sea shore; and ran with energy through all the usual phrases employed in praise of their sublimity and descriptive of the undescribable emotions they excite in the mind of sensibility. The terrific grandeur of the ocean in a storm, its glass surface in a calm, its gulls and its samphire and the deep fathoms of its abysses, its quick vicissitudes, its direful deceptions, its mariners tempting it in sunshine and overwhelmed by the sudden tempest — all were eagerly and fluently touched; rather commonplace perhaps, but doing very well from the lips of a handsome Sir Edward, and she could not but think him a man of feeling, till he began to stagger her by the number of his quotations and the bewilderment of some of his sentences. Sanditon, Chapter 7

Jane Austen’s anti-hero in Sanditon, Sir Edward Denham, Baronet of Denham Park is a bit of rake and a rattle. He is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style all in an attempt to reinforce his own notion that he is a romantic character born to seduce women “quite in the line of Lovelaces.” Lovelace refers to the villain Robert Lovelace in Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa who rapes and ruins the young heroine. With Sir Edward, Austen is poking fun at the dramatic and sentimental heroes and villains of the novels of her times.  

During his speech to Charlotte Heywood, he rambles on about the sea describing in quite unoriginal phrases its “terrific grandeur” of glass surface, gulls and samphire. When I originally read the novel years ago, I had no idea what samphire was, what significance it had and why Jane Austen used as and example of describing the sea. Understanding the cultural context of Austen’s novels can be so enlightening and I asked Julie of Austenonly, a fellow Austen enthusiast and expert on the era to explain it all for me. She has graciously obliged and you can read her excellent post on samphire at her blog.

In addition to his rattling’s about the sea we are treated to his lengthy effusions on poets as he incorrectly attributes Scott to have written about the sea, which Charlotte quickly corrects him on.

“Do you remember”, said he, “Scott’s beautiful Lines on the Sea? — Oh! what a description they convey! — They are never out of my Thoughts when I walk here. — That Man who can read them unmoved must have the nerves of an Assassin! — Heaven defend me from meeting such a Man un-armed.”  

“What description do you mean?”, said Charlotte. “I remember none at this moment, of the Sea, in either of Scott’s Poems.”

“Do not you indeed? — Nor can I exactly recall the beginning at this moment.”  Ch 6

This blunder does not deter him in the least and he continues quoting other poets: Burns, Montgomery and Campbell. Our observant heroine is having none of it and calls him out again.

“I have read several of Burns’ Poems with great delight”, said Charlotte, as soon as she had time to speak, “but I am not poetic enough to separate a Man’s Poetry entirely from his Character; — & poor Burns’s known Irregularities greatly interrupt my enjoyment of his Lines. — I have difficulty in depending on the Truth of his Feelings as a Lover. I have not faith in the sincerity of the affections of a Man of his Description. He felt & he wrote & he forgot.” Ch 8

One wonders if Charlotte has learned that Sir Edward’s “known irregularities greatly interrupt” her enjoyment of his speech? She has difficulty believing the truth of Burns’ poetry because of his personal life. A man’s actions reflect upon his reputation and character. I love the parallel between what she describes as Burns’ faults, “He felt & he wrote & he forgot” with Sir Edward’s want of being a seducer, who we well know are all about the conquest and not the results or consequences!

More on the insincere and insalubrious Sir Edward Denham as he expounds upon “The mere Trash of the common Circulating Library” when ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ continues this week.

Upcoming event posts

Day 4 – March 18 Group read Chapters 5-8
Day 5 – March 19 Regency seaside fashions
Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Guest Blog with Julie of Austenonly on Regency-era Seaside Resorts

Joining us today to extend the Sanditon celebration across the Internet is a very special guest, Julie the very affable and talented blog mistress of Austenonly. Her expertise in Georgian and Regency era culture and history is astonishing. Her extensive library of resource books would make even Mr. Darcy envious. To tie into to our ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ event this week, she will be blogging about the development of Regency-era seaside resorts similar to what our Mr. Parker and Lady Denham are attempting to create at Sanditon. Enjoy! 

Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, Sanditon, is set in a small Sussex seaside resort, a place that is being ruthlessly and relentlessly “improved” by Mr Parker, a man obsessed with his creation and the money-making opportunities it affords: 

Mr. Parker`s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very openhearted; and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information to such of the Heywoods as could observe. By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast — on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landholder the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides…  Sanditon, Chapter 2 

Sanditon is also under the patronage of Lady Denham, the wealthy widow of Mr Hollis and a baronet, a social climber though marriage and a woman rather in the mould of  Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice,. Here she is described by Mr Parker: 

“There is at times,” said he, “a little self-importance — but it is not offensive — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable. Though now and then, a littleness will appear. She cannot look forward quite as I would have her and takes alarm at a trifling present expense without considering what returns it will make her in a year or two. That is, we think differently. We now and then see things differently, Miss Heywood. Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.” Lady Denham was indeed a great lady beyond the common wants of society, for she had many thousands a year to bequeath, and three distinct sets of people to be courted by: her own relations, who might very reasonably wish for her original thirty thousand pounds among them; the legal heirs of Mr. Hollis, who must hope to be more indebted to her sense of justice than he had allowed them to be to his… Sanditon, Chapter 3 

In this satire on developing seaside resorts, commercial greed, hypochondria and the type of people these place attracted, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that Jane Austen ensures that Mr Holllis, the first husband of Lady Denham, shares the name of the man who began the development of Lyme Regis from small fishing village to a seaside resort. 

Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and
Sea-Bathing  Places etc (1803) by John Feltham

Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster. He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme and bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade). He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804. 

Continue to full post 

Upcoming event posts

Day 4 – March 18 Group Read Chapters 5-8
Day 5 – March 19 Regency seaside fashions
Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions

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