Life in an Eighteenth Century Country House, by Peter and Carolyn Hammond – A Review

Life in a Eighteenth Century Country House Peter and Carolyn Hammond x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

The Grove was a large country house and estate in Chiswick, England owned by Humphrey Morice, the son a highly successful London merchant and slave trader. Morice was an animal lover, and in contrast to the common practices of his day, did not destroy animals that were unable to work any longer. He kept a number of horses, dogs, and other animals at Grove House, causing many of his contemporaries to consider him an eccentric.

The main attraction of Life in an Eighteenth Century Country House is the series of letters written by head groom Will Bishop to Morice during his stay in Italy from 1782-1785. Bishop wrote regularly to his employer, sending detailed accounts of all the bills for the house and stables for Morice’s approval. This was unusual, as most estate owners employed a “man of business” to handle these matters. As head groom, Bishop was mostly concerned with the welfare of the animals of the estate and wrote extensively about them, especially those that were unwell. He also kept Morice abreast of the personal lives of the staff, recounting their illnesses and conflicts with other workers, as well as general news about local people Morice would have known. One of my favorites was the “he said, she said” battle in the kitchen between the cook and stable lads: Continue reading

A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, by Sue Wilkes – A Review

A Visitors Guide to Jane Austen's England by Sue Wilkes 2014 From the desk of Katie Patchell 

How prevalent was the smuggling trade in England during the Regency? When exactly was the Season? What did men and women spend their day doing in the country and in Town? How did one go about posting a letter? Were spectacles a fashion statement or something to hide? What were bathrooms like in the Regency? And what exactly was the purpose of Colonel Brandon’s flannel under-waistcoat? These questions are asked and answered (alongside stories of daring escapades and humorous eccentricities) in Sue Wilkes’ latest Regency book, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.

Each of the seven chapters in covers a different aspect of Regency life, and is filled with anecdotes and snippets from journals and travel guides of the period. This book includes the following topics:

Chapter Breakdown

  • Chapter 1—“Traveling”: hotels, inns, turnpikes, sea travel, private carriages, public coaches, and highwaymen
  • Chapter 2—“Gracious Living”: the Season, townhouses, bathrooms, indoor plumbing, candles, heating, beds, bedbugs, landscape, country homes, food, meal plans, a day in the life of a Regency woman, and the Prince Regent
  • Chapter 3—“The Latest Modes”: style changes of hair and dress (and the meanings behind them), dandies, wigs, underwear, gowns, breeches, hats, and boots
  • Chapter 4—“Money Matters”: entails, the expectations of daughters and eldest sons, the options for younger sons, the levels of schooling for young men and women, marriage laws, and servants
  • Chapter 5—“Shopping, ‘Lounging’, and Leisure”: shopping in London, buying dress material, a day in the life of a London lounger, pickpockets, books, clubs, gambling, Almack’s, music, culture, church services, menageries, duels, sports, and the mail service
  • Chapter 6—“The Perfect Partner”: the marriage market, dancing, flirting, the waltz, wedding preparations, and elopements
  • Chapter 7—“In Sickness and in Health”: cleanliness, dangerous cosmetics, teeth, physicians/operations (successful and unsuccessful), childbirth, mourning, Bath, sea-bathing, and Brighton

Continue reading

Jane Austen: In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her, by Helen Amy – A Review

Jane Austen In Her Own Words, by Helen Amy (2014)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to biographies of Jane Austen these days, but that was not always the case. As Helen Amy notes, it was not until fifty years after Austen’s death that a growing number of readers wanted to know more about her life. At that time, the only outlet for this increasing public interest was Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral. Flocks of people began visiting the site, causing a puzzled verger to inquire, “Is there anything particular about that lady?” (172)

This interest coincided with the death of Jane’s last surviving sibling and prompted her nephew Edward Austen-Leigh to write his biography of her in 1869. Other family biographies were subsequently published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by this time Austen was regarded as an important literary figure. Later scholarly works have uncovered a somewhat different Jane than the quiet homebody her family described. Since Helen Amy’s work references the family biographies extensively, I was curious to see the portrait of Austen that would emerge in Jane Austen In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her.

From the first chapter “Childhood 1775-1786” the Austen family home is described as cheerful and harmonious with Jane growing up in a “well-educated, intellectual and cultivated family whose members were close, loving and united.” (13) However, this fondness for one another did not blunt the acerbic wit within the family. For example, Jane’s mother remarked upon her young daughters’ close relationship by saying, “if Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.” (13) Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, by Antony Edmonds – A Review

Jane Austen's Worthing, by Antony Edmonds 2014From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen sequels thrive on what ifs. What if Darcy’s first proposal had been delivered in a more gentlemanly manner? What if Willoughby had decided to marry for love instead of money? Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is a different kind of literary “what if” for her fans. The eleven chapters Austen penned in early 1817 introduce readers to a fictional seaside resort with as promising a set of characters as any of her other novels. As Antony Edmonds notes in the introduction to Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon:

“In spite of the fact that during its composition she was suffering from the painful and debilitating illness that killed her, there is little evidence of any diminution of her powers, and had the book been finished it is likely that it would have been the equal of her six famous novels.” (10)

While other authors have taken up the challenge of completing the unfinished story, Edmonds, a researcher and writer who has published numerous articles about the seaside town of Worthing and its literary associations, reveals the parallels between Jane Austen’s fictional town and the real one on the Sussex coast in England that she visited in 1805. As Edmonds explains, researchers have only recently known for certain that Jane Austen visited Worthing. Her letters mention the possibility of a visit, but no further reference is made of the trip. Confirmation of the visit was found in the diaries and letters of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight. Jane Austen’s Worthing includes excerpts from these documents as well as seventy-five illustrations and maps that provide a detailed view of life in Regency Worthing. Continue reading

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace – A Review

Image of book cover of To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace (2012)From the desk of Laura A. Wallace. 

Originally published in 1989, this 2012 re-issue of To Marry and English Lord is an attractive trade paperback edition by Workman Publishing. Promoted as “an inspiration for Downton Abbey,” Julian Fellowes, the screenplay writer who created the series, has been quoted as saying that he was reading this book when approached about writing the series, and that the first character he conceived for it was Cora, Countess of Grantham, an American heiress.

This book has long been on my “to acquire and read” list so I was really looking forward to finally reading it. I found it to be fairly light reading. The chapters are divided up into short sub-headings, sprinkled with lots of side-bar quotations and tid-bits (at least one on every page), and interspersed with little mini-articles on every third or fourth page. Illustrations are copious; decorations are Victorian and Edwardian. Overall it presents a great deal of factual information in a very digestible way.

This is the sort of book that serves as an introduction to a topic, and a launching pad for further research. (It is the type of book that novelists unfortunately use as a primary source, but that is a rant for another time.) It has no footnotes or endnotes, but does have a good selective bibliography which includes a list of period fictional works. The index is good (if imperfect) and there are excellent appendices, including a “Register of American Heiresses” and a “Walking Tour of the American Heiresses’ London” which are handy references.

The text is organized in a loosely chronological way. It begins with the origins of Anglomania (the 1860 U. S. visit of the young Prince of Wales) and the beyond-Almack’s-despotic exclusivity of Old New York “Knickerbocker” society which ruthlessly excluded new money. So the first set of snubbed wives and daughters left New York for Paris and then London in the 1870s, where they scored aristocratic English husbands, got themselves into the Prince of Wales’s social set, and rarely bothered to cross the Atlantic again.

This first set was comparatively small, comprising only about half a dozen women, and it is they who earned the sobriquet “The Buccaneers.” The most famous girl in this first wave was Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became the mother of Sir Winston Churchill.

But that was just the tip of the spear of the “American Invasion.” The ranks grew steadily and kept up the pace until the death of Edward VII in 1910, after which it trickled off and ended with World War I. I had not realized, until reading this book, that the invasion was so extensive. There were at least two dozen who married into the peerage itself, and dozens more who married younger sons, baronets, M.P.s, and gentry. The “Register” at the back of the book lists about 115 of them, and this list, of course, cannot be exhaustive.

It was not just their pots of money that made these women so attractive to Englishmen.  Their manners were free, easy, and confident, the complete opposite of those of demure, shy English girls. They were well-educated and very well-dressed, usually by Worth.  They were pretty, too, their very lack of “breeding” apparently considered a bonus by their targets, if not by their mamas (appealing at a genetic level, perhaps?). The Prince of Wales loved them, and where he led, everyone followed.

I did find a few factual errors, an occasional absurd assertion, and a couple of errors in titles usage (of course), but overall the information presented seems solid. I encourage readers to use this book as a spring platform to explore other works, whether Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough’s memoirs, the novels of Wharton, James, and Hardy, or perhaps some of the lesser-known novels of the day. (The latter are featured in a mini-article, but not listed in the bibliography.) The book nicely provides the most general background material to improve enjoyment of the portraits of Sargent (there are hundreds on Wikimedia Commons) or of the costume dramas to which we are all highly addicted.

4 out of 5 Stars

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Workman Publishing (2012)
Trade paperback (403) pages
ISBN: 978-0761171959

Cover image courtesy © Workman Publishing Group; text © 2012 Laura A. Wallace

The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken-Hodge – A Review

The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken-Hodge (2011)Guest review by Laura A. Wallace

Jane Aiken Hodge’s 1984 biography of Georgette Heyer, reissued this month by Sourcebooks, was until very recently the only one available.  Published ten years after Heyer’s death, it describes her life primarily from her letters to her publisher.  An intensely private person, Heyer eschewed publicity, never giving an interview, and not keeping her papers for posterity.  Thus a biographer has relatively little material available.  Hodge interviewed Heyer’s editors, surviving family members, and a very few friends (all of whom loved or respected her), and then wove a narrative around the books themselves, using them to illustrate her life, and vice versa.

A lot of the criticism of this biography has focused on either errors Hodge made about the novels themselves, or some kind of personal disappointment the reader feels from finding Heyer “unlikeable.”  I personally find whatever errors Hodge made to be minor and forgivable, and find Heyer herself to be witty, strong-willed, and very likeable.  Her personality erupts from her letters, and makes me want to read more of them.  Coupled with her friends’ descriptions of her immense style and charm, they make me wish I could have known her.

Her private nature prevented her from discussing her books with her friends.  She would talk about everything else in the world with them, but when the conversation came around to her work, she would remain silent on it, leaving any discussion to her husband, or changing the subject.  It is hard to tell from this remove (of both time and culture), but it seems to me that this was, at its core, a very large dose of British reticence and self-deprecation.  The idea of self-promotion was simply repugnant to her, and since her first novel (written as a serial to amuse a sick brother when she was seventeen and published before she was twenty) had sold well, and a later novel had come out during a general strike with no publicity and yet sold 190,000 copies, she was convinced that she had no need to promote her work.   She referred requesters of interviews back to her novels.  Hodge reports that she would say:  You will find me in my work.

So this biography focuses on her work, and how it informs us about the author.  And in that regard, it is particularly interesting to writers.  There is advice to new authors (she sometimes read other people’s manuscripts for her publisher) and there is the long incubation and development and experimentation with her own style and various settings before she settled into the Regency period.  It took her twenty years, and twenty-four novels, before she did so.  For many years she wrote a historical novel and a thriller every year.  It was an intense pace.  And her meticulous research is always highlighted.

I was surprised by the size of the Sourcebooks edition, which was smaller and thinner than I had expected.  The comparative sizes of this trade-paperback-sized edition and the original hardcover edition are deceptive, however.  The new edition runs to 256 pages while the original is only 216.  The new edition has a new sentence at the end of the Acknowledgements stating that some new material has been incorporated into the text; but while I did not make a word-for-word comparison of the two editions, I did not find any additions or corrections.  The most significant difference between the editions appears to be the lack of color illustrations in the new one, and the omission of as many as half of the total number or illustrations that were in the original.  The hardcover edition is one of the best-illustrated books about the Regency anywhere, full of large color and black and white plates of photographs, portraits, caricatures, fashion plates, and paintings, with something on nearly every page.  Many, perhaps most, of these are missing in the new edition, and of course the smaller format and plain paper reduces the beauty, and even the utility, of many of those that remain.  It is still well-illustrated, just no longer exceptionally so.  This is the only thing that restrains what would otherwise be an enthusiastic recommendation of this book to all Heyer and Regency fans.  Even so, it is still well worth reading for anyone who enjoys Heyer or who is interested in the development of a successful author’s career.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken-Hodge
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (256) pages
ISBN: 978-1402251924

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, by Jennifer Adams: The Sunday Salon Review

Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, by Jennifer Adams (2009)What makes Jane Austen’s writing so extraordinary? Why is she considered by many to be one of the greatest authors in the English language? What does our esteem, or our abhorrence of her reveal about ourselves, and our culture?  

In Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, one hundred personalities from actors to intellectuals have their say on literature’s queen of wit and style offering their own pithy, impassioned and often candid insights on what makes Jane Austen so special and how she influenced their own writing and lives. If you thought that you had already read most of the famous quotes on Austen over the years, then you just might be surprised by what author and editor Jennifer Adams has selected. Here are a few of my favorites to give you a teaser.  

Admirers 

There are some writers who wrote too much. There are others who wrote enough. There are yet others who wrote nothing like enough to satisfy their admirers, and Jane Austen is certainly one of these.” Margaret Drabble, 1974, Novelist 

How did this early-nineteenth-century novelist become the chick-lit, chick-flick queen for today? It is not only because she is an enduring writer. So is Melville, but bumper stickers and T-shirts read “What would Jane do?” not “What would Herman do?” Caryn James, 2007, Film Critic of the New York Times 

I think, the fact that we have fallen in love with Elizabeth Bennet … means, in effect, that we have fallen in love with Jane Austen; and once we do that we are lovers for life.” Frank Swinnerton, 1940, Literary Critic and Novelist 

Nay-sayers 

Edmund and Fanny are both morally detestable and the endorsement of their feelings and behaviour by the author … makes Mansfield Park an immoral book.” Kingsley Amis, 1957, Novelist and Poet 

Jane Austen? I feel I am approaching dangerous ground. The reputation of Jane Austen is surrounded by cohorts of defenders who are ready to do murder for their sacred cause.” Arnold Bennett, 1927, Literary Critic 

The function of the British army in the novels of Jane Austen is to look cute at parties.” Salmon Rushdie, 2005, Novelist, Political Figure 

Since the first reviews of Austen’s novels appeared in the early nineteenth-century, people have been talking about her – good and bad – leaving a rich field of research for author and editor Jennifer Adams to select from. Here she gives us a glimpse of the most famous and well quoted remarks over the centuries and some totally modern and fresh views from contemporary sources that I was not aware of. Included are an interesting mix of prominent scholars, actors, directors and fellow writers such as Helen Fielding, Ang Lee, Colin Firth, Andrew Davies, Emma Thompson, Karen Joy Fowler, Oscar Wilde, Stephanie Meyer, Mark Twain, Andy Rooney, and Charlotte Bronte. The list is quite impressive, giving due deference to this talented writer. Interestingly, I also found a new nugget of wisdom included in the forward by the author herself. 

To those of us who love Jane Austen, she is like the brightness of burnished silver. Something lovely, with sparkle, that makes our world more beautiful. I adore her. I love the pleasure she gives with a well-turned line, the way she can make you actually laugh out loud, the bite of her sarcasm, how she lets you fall in love again and again.” Jennifer Adams 

Not only is Remarkably Jane packed full of illuminating insights, it is presented in a stunningly beautiful gift quality volume with exquisite black and white illustrations reminiscent of Regency drawings, skillfully honoring and acknowledging one of the most beloved and influential English novelists of all time. For sheer joy of laughter and awe, Jennifer Adams has given us a treasure.

Laurel Ann 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, by Jennifer Adams
Gibbs Smith, Layton, UT (2009)
Hardcover, (128) pages
ISBN: 978-1423604785

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