Reblog: The Inexhaustible Jane Austen: An Interview with Jocelyn Harris and Bucknell University Press

Gentle Readers: I post here the full text of an interview with Austen scholar Jocelyn Harris that she did with her publisher Bucknell University Press on her newest book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen. You can find the original post here: http://upress.blogs.bucknell.edu/2017/10/16/the-inexhaustible-jane-austen-an-interview-with-jocelyn-harris/

[Photo by Reg Graham]

Upon the release of her new book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen (Bucknell University Press, 2017), Jocelyn Harris was kind enough to discuss her research and writing on the witty English novelist.  Jane Austen has been the subject for much of Harris’ work, and still is, as Harris continues to uncover new insights into Austen’s life and writing. As Harris puts it, Austen is “quite simply inexhaustible”—and as Harris’ responses demonstrate, new methods of research and deeper investigation reveal more about her with each new endeavor.

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Bucknell University Press [BUP]: You state in your introduction that you “reconstruct Jane Austen’s creative process by means of the newspapers she perused, the gossip she heard, the streets she walked upon, and the sights she saw.”  This method suggests a focus on environment, an almost anthropological study of a different time and place.  What was the research process like in regards to uncovering evidence from the past?  What challenges did you meet?  What was the most rewarding?

Jocelyn Harris [JH]: Distance is my biggest challenge, because I live in New Zealand, half a world away from the great libraries of Europe and North America. The Internet has quite simply changed my life. Exciting new resources such as databases of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, digitized manuscripts, online books, blogs, and search engines all open up cultural and historical contexts that bring her back to life—as do new books and editions in print and e-book form, readily accessible articles on the web, and email suggestions from friends.

Reading the magnificent modern editions of Fanny Burney’s letters and journals made me aware that snippets of her correspondence, obviously too good to ignore, reappear in Austen’s novels. My guess is that her mother’s gossipy cousin, who lived over the road from the celebrated author, could have told the family many a sensational tale of Burney’s life at the court of George III.

With the help of the Internet, I realized that Austen probably based Elizabeth and Jane Bennet on two royal mistresses. Dorothy Jordan, celebrity actress, mistress to the Duke of Clarence, and mother of his ten children, seems to have inspired her creation of the lively Elizabeth, while Austen would identify a portrait of the regent’s mistress, Mrs. Georgina Quentin, as Mrs. Bingley. When the regent came courting this “professed spanker,” Georgina was living in Covent Garden, where Austen stayed with her banker brother, Henry.

Most of Jane Austen’s correspondence has been lost, and she kept no diary. Therefore, I had to fill out her life by poring over her locations, her reading, her social and literary networks, her knowledge of current events, and her viewing of cartoons and portraits.

BUP: While she is immortalized by her writing, Austen was a real person living during a unique moment in history.  In your opinion, what is the most compelling piece of information that you learned about Jane Austen during the research process for this book?

JH: Austen is often regarded as a gentle, amusing ironist. But as the title of Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen indicates, I believe that she was a courageous political satirist.  At a time when the cult of celebrity was in its infancy, she targeted celebrities, up to and including the Prince of Wales. Her in-jokes about public figures demonstrate her worldliness, her fascination with fame, and her relish of rumor.

She was also never more than one degree of separation away from royalty. To know from a local historian’s website that the young Prince of Wales lived near Steventon, Austen’s home, was to understand why she created so many satiric avatars of him. Austen was a patriot, and the prince was endangering the nation. She attacked him in the only way she could, obliquely, through her characters and plots. In Northanger Abbey, for instance, the unlovely John Thorpe lies, boasts, swears, looks, and behaves as badly as Prince George. A “stout young man of middling height,” with a “plain face and ungraceful form,” Thorpe utters “a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met.”

Austen attacks the prince yet again in Mansfield Park’s Henry Crawford, a man marked like him by caprice and unsteadiness. Crawford indulges in the “freaks of a cold-blooded vanity,” and rids himself of his money and leisure “at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.” In Persuasion, she criticizes Sir Walter Elliot’s status and power, as unearned as the regent’s, and praises Captain Wentworth’s merit and courage. Austen’s lacerating portraits suggest first-hand knowledge of the prince’s vulgar, voyeuristic, and self-indulgent ways.

BUP: Considering again the study of place, if Austen had lived during this day and age, who do you think her subjects for inspiration might have been?  How do you think the world would have reacted to her wit, humor, and criticism?

JH: A Regency woman in a golden age of satire, Austen attacked the Prince of Wales for his much-lampooned appearance, his lewdness, his vanity, his instability, his outrageous spending, his tremendous debts, his desire for absolute power, his implicit treason, his fondness for over-the-top building ventures, and his embarrassing braggadocio. Even court insiders warned that the prince was not fit to be king, and Austen wrote that she hated him. The current resurgence of political satire in social media, newspapers, and cartoons would have delighted this savvy, progressive, and thoroughly modern woman.

BUP: Satire, Celebrity, and Politics being your third book on Jane Austen, how has your research evolved regarding your interest in her life and writing? Are there any questions that still need to be answered? What will you do next?

JH: I only want to know how Jane Austen did it (only!). In Jane Austen’s Art of Memory (Cambridge University Press, 1989), I followed the turns of her mind as she picked up elements from other writers and made them into her own. Undeterred by being a woman, she took whatever she wanted from anywhere.

In A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (University of Delaware Press, 2007), I traced her creative process in the only manuscript to survive from her published novels. In the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, she deletes, interlineates, writes new material in the margins, and sticks on a scrap with a wax wafer. Eight days later, she threw all that away, and wrote some of the most remarkable scenes in her work––the last chapters of Persuasion.  She was indeed a true professional.

At a time of hardship, inequality, and war, Austen wrote, “How much are the Poor to be pitied, and the Rich to be blamed.” In Persuasion, she attacks the class hierarchies propping up the society of her day. In a highly subversive move, she sets Sir Walter Elliot’s Baronetage against Captain Wentworth’s Navy List, pride of birth against pride of accomplishment. The aging patriarch of the Elliots cannot compete with the glamorous young Captain Wentworth, who derives from real-life heroes such as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, and Captain Cook. So too, in this brave new world of energy and achievement, the faded beauty of Bath gives way to the Romantic sublimity of Lyme Regis. In this eloquent novel about second chances, Anne Elliot finds a fragile happiness.

Jane Austen is quite simply inexhaustible. I’m writing about her relationship to Madame de Staël, the foremost woman genius of the age; the London locations where she could have seen contemporary cartoons; and her continual fascination with Fanny Burney. There is always more to find out about this extraordinary woman.

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For more information on Austen, take a look at Harris’ latest book Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen. To order visit http://www.rowman.com or call 1-800-462-6420. Use code “UP30AUTH17” to save 30% on the list price (not valid on eBook).

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c2017, Jane Austen Vermont, reblogged from Bucknell University Press

Julienne Gehrer on “Dining with Jane Austen”

Dear Janeites Near and Far,

Next Thursday, August 3rd, we will be welcoming author Julienne Gehrer to Vermont! She will be speaking at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington from 5-7 pm on, you guessed it, “Dining with Jane Austen.” This is the first event in the Library’s  new series “BURLINGTON RISING: Lectures & Culinary Demonstrations centered on the historical role of bread in human civilization” – see below for more information on this series.

Julienne will be giving her full talk to us at the Library; a shorter talk will be offered on Friday evening at Shelburne Farms as we partake in a full-course Regency-era dinner provided by local chef Richard Witting and his Isolde Dinner Club – you can read the details of both events here.

Today, a little introduction to Julienne’s book – it will be available for purchase and signing at both events – if you would like to reserve a copy in advance, please contact me.

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Telling Jane Austen’s Life Though Food

     During a cool and rainy summer in Hampshire, England, an American writer received unprecedented access to two manuscript cookbooks connected to Jane Austen. Paging through the unpublished works, it became clear that many of the family recipes could be connected to foods referenced in the author’s letters and novels.

Fast forward through three years of research, 45 period food articles, 75 recipe adaptations, plus on-site photography at two Hampshire houses where Jane Austen lived and dined. In her new book, Dining with Jane Austen, Julienne Gehrer tells the story of the famous author’s life through the foods on her plate. The book’s May release date coincides with the launch of Hampshire events celebrating the 200th anniversary year of the author’s death.

Readers will enjoy the book’s food-centric stories sequenced in the order of Jane Austen’s letters and residences: her girlhood home in Steventon, economic struggles in Bath, stability in Southampton, creative freedom at Chawton, and death in Winchester. Now Haricot Mutton, Orange Wine, Bath Buns, White Soup, and many other foods familiar to Austen can be recreated using the her family’s own recipes. By understanding and recreating these foods, readers can enjoy a certain level of intimacy with the author—much like that of sharing a meal with family and close friends.

Dining with Jane Austen gives readers their first view of family recipes on the family china in the family houses. To create the book, Gehrer was allowed to photograph from attic to cellar in Chawton Cottage, where Austen wrote or revised all her major novels. The cottage is now known as Jane Austen’s House Museum, located just down the lane from Chawton Great House, the home of Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight. Here Gehrer was allowed to photograph the recreated recipes on the Knight family china bearing the familiar grey friar. Jane accompanied her brother and niece to select the pattern at Wedgwood’s London showroom in 1813—the same year Pride and Prejudice was published. One of Jane’s letters describes the pattern of  “a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold;—& it is to have the Crest.”

In the midst of so many books offering the fictitious dishes of Mrs. Elton’s Rout Cakes or the dinner Mrs. Bennet might have served Mr. Darcy, Gehrer made it her goal was to serve up Austen with well-researched authenticity. By recreating the famous author’s favorite foods, readers may indeed feel like they are dining with Jane Austen.

Dining with Jane Austen
By Julienne Gehrer
May, 2017 (Ash Grove Press, Inc.) 218 soft-bound pages with 250 full color illustrations $34 at diningwithjaneausten.org and Amazon 

Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit Jane Austen’s House Museum and Chawton House Library.

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Julienne Gehrer is a Lifetime Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and has served as a Board Member and Regional Coordinator. She worked as an Editorial Director for Hallmark Cards, Inc., and retired after a 31-year career. Julienne is the author of two books: In Season: Cooking Fresh From the Kansas City Farmers’ Market and Love Lore: Symbols, Legends and Recipes for Romance. She is the creator of three board games including Pride and Prejudice—the Game. Julienne has spoken at several JASNA conferences and regional events on topics including, Did Jane Austen Prefer a Plain Dish to a Ragout? and Jane Austen and 18th Century Kitchen Wisdom. Although she admits a preference for modern kitchens, Julienne has cooked period foods over the open hearth at the 1858 John Wornall House Museum.

Hope to see many of you there!

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More on the Fletcher Free Library series:

BURLINGTON RISING: Lectures & Culinary Demonstrations centered on the historical role of bread in human civilization Brought to you by the Fletcher Free Library, the Vermont Humanities Council and the Friends of the Fletcher Free Library.

Burlington Rising explores bread’s connection to cultural identity, the development of cooperative economies and food systems, archaeological artifacts from Africa to New England and the breads brought from across the globe to Vermont through immigration. Burlington Rising provides opportunities for people from a variety of backgrounds to learn from each other; educates our community about the historical foundations of diet and food preparation; and engages multiple generations in activities that build relationships through stories and food preparation.

Burlington Rising Lectures on Bread Traditions and Culinary Demonstrations:

  • August – from Europe
  • September – from Africa
  • October – from Asia
  • Late October & Early November – from the Americas

 

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont, with thanks to Julienne Gehrer

In Memory of Jane Austen ~ July 18, 1817 ~ A Bicentenary

July 18, 1817.  Just a short commemoration on this sad day…200 years ago….

No one said it better than her sister Cassandra who wrote

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, ed. by Deidre Le Faye [3rd ed, 1997], From Cassandra to Fanny Knight, 20 July 1817, p. 343; full text of this letter is at the Republic of Pemberley)

There has been much written on Austen’s lingering illness and death; see the article by Sir Zachary Cope published in the British Medical Journal of July 18, 1964, in which he first proposes that Austen suffered from Addison’s disease.  And see also Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A life, “Appendix I, “A Note on Jane Austen’s Last Illness” where she suggests that Austen’s symptoms align more with a lymphoma such as Hodgkin’s disease.

The Gravesite:

Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral

….where no mention is made of her writing life on her grave:

It was not until after 1870 that a brass memorial tablet was placed by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh on the north wall of the nave, near her grave:

It tells the visitor that:

Jane Austen

[in part] Known to many by her writings,
endeared to her family
by the varied charms of her characters
and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety
was born at Steventon in the County of Hants.
December 16 1775
and buried in the Cathedral
July 18 1817.
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom
and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

The Obituaries:

David Gilson writes in his article “Obituaries” that there are eleven known published newspaper and periodical obituary notices of Jane Austen: here are a few of them:

  1. Hampshire Chronicle and Courier (vol. 44, no. 2254, July 21, 1817, p.4):  “Winchester, Saturday, July 19th: Died yesterday, in College-street, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen formerly Rector of Steventon, in this county.”
  2. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle (vol. 18, no. 928, p. 4)…”On Friday last died, Miss Austen, late of Chawton, in this County.”
  3. Courier (July 22, 1817, no. 7744, p. 4), makes the first published admission of Jane Austen’s authorship of the four novels then published: “On the 18th inst. at Winchester, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen, Rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, and the Authoress of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility.  Her manners were most gentle; her affections ardent; her candor was not to be surpassed, and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.” [A manuscript copy of this notice in Cassandra Austen’s hand exists, as described by B.C. Southam]
  4. The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle published a second notice in its next issue (July 28, 1817, p. 4) to include Austen’s writings.

There are seven other notices extant, stating the same as the above in varying degrees.  The last notice to appear, in the New Monthly Magazine (vol. 8, no. 44, September 1, 1817, p. 173) wrongly gives her father’s name as “Jas” (for James), but describes her as “the ingenious authoress” of the four novels…

[from Gilson’s article “Obituaries,” The Jane Austen Companion. Macmillan, 1986. p. 320-1]

Links to other articles and sources:

There are many articles and blog posts being written today – I shall post links to all tomorrow – here are just a few:

Copyright c2017  Jane Austen in Vermont

Come to A Jane Austen Weekend in Hyde Park, Vermont!

Get out your quills Janietes! The Governor’s House in Hyde Park Vermont, home to five Jane Austen Weekends each year, has a special on offer! All you need to do is write an elegy, poem or short story…and be all about Jane, and you could qualify for a half-price stay at the Inn.

Governor’s House, Hyde Park, Vermont

This is direct from Suzanne (the Innkeeper):

 

I’ve been thinking that I should do something to recognize this important year and month for Jane Austen. But it’s been difficult to come up with an appropriate idea, something serious enough for our thoughts of a short life ( December 16, 1775 to July 18, 1817) not to mention the possibility of more books we could love, and yet celebratory enough for the great pleasure she has given so many readers for over 200 years.

This is what I am offering. Anyone who writes an elegy, poem, or very short story appropriate to be shared a Jane Austen weekend here at The Governor’s House may reserve any of the remaining places at weekends this summer at half price. There are rooms available at the Pride and Prejudice weekends August 4 – 6 and September 8 – 10 and one double or single room left for the in character weekend August 11 -13. I hope lots of you will be encouraged to put quill to paper, if not by my offer, then by her inspiration.

Governor’s House in Hyde Park
100 Main Street, Hyde Park, VT
802-888-6888
info@OneHundredMain.com
http://www.onehundredmain.com/

Start writing! Send in your thoughts via email or by post to the Inn (info above) – with your permission, we will publish some of the entries here, all in celebration of Jane Austen…

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Our Next Meeting! ~ August 3 and 4, 2017 ~ “Dining with Jane Austen” w/ Julienne Gehrer

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s August Meeting

“Dining with Jane Austen”
w/ Julienne Gehrer*

Thursday 3 August 2017, 5 – 7 pm

Fletcher Free Library – Fletcher Room
235 College St, Burlington VT 

A careful study of Jane Austen’s letters reveals a woman passionate about many topics, especially food. “You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me”(Ltr. 15 June 1808). Join us for a culinary journey revealing details of the author’s life through the foods on her plate. See favorite dishes recreated from two manuscript cookbooks held within the Austen family circle. Learn how the three-year research project led to attic-to-cellar photography at Jane Austen’s House Museum. See the first views of the author’s family recipes shown on family china in family houses.

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~ Free & open to the public ~
~ Light refreshments served
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For more information:   JASNAVTregion [at] gmail.com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.blog

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*Julienne Gehrer is a Lifetime Member of JASNA, serving as a Board Member and Regional Coordinator. Recently retired after a 31-year career as an Editorial Director for Hallmark Cards, she is the author of two books: In Season: Cooking Fresh from the Kansas City Farmers’ Market and Love Lore: Symbols, Legends and Recipes for Romance, and has just published Dining with Jane Austen [this will be available for purchase]. She also created “Pride and Prejudice—the Game,” and is a popular speaker on food and Jane Austen on such topics as: “Did Jane Austen Prefer a Plain Dish to a Ragout?” and “Jane Austen and 18th Century Kitchen Wisdom.” Although she admits a preference for modern kitchens, Julienne has cooked period foods over the open hearth at the 1858 John Wornall House Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Friday August 4, 2017, 5:30 – 9 pm: Shelburne Farms Coach Barn.

The JASNA-Vermont Region will partner with chef Richard Witting and his Isole Dinner Club’s series on the History of English Food and Literature – the theme this time, following successful events on Chaucer and Shakespeare, will be Jane Austen! A delicious and entertaining evening in on offer: a multi-course authentic Regency dinner (think candlelight!); a talk on the drink of the period by Adam Krakowski, author of Vermont Beer: History of A Brewing Revolution; Deb Barnum will talk on “Ten Things You Never Knew about Jane Austen,” and our own Val Medve and her Burlington Country Dancers will perform to live music between courses. Special guest Julienne Gehrer, flown in for the occasion from Kansas City (where she and her Region will host us for the 2018 AGM), will speak on all things Jane Austen and food, sharing her knowledge learned in the writing of her new book Dining with Jane Austen (which will be available for purchase) – please note that this will be a shorter talk than the powerpoint presentation given on Thursday evening at the Fletcher Free Library.

Cost: $125 / person – tickets must be reserved at Shelburne Farms: http://www.shelburnefarms.org/calendar/event/isole-dinner-clubs-history-of-english-food-and-literature-series-jane-austen

[Image: Shelburne Farms Coach Barn]

Hope you can join us at one or both events!!

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Our Next Meeting! June 4, 2017 with JASNA President Claire Bellanti

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s June Meeting

with

JASNA President Claire Bellanti* 

“‘You Can Get a Parasol at Whitby’s:’
Circulating Libraries in Jane Austen’s Time”

Sunday, 4 June 2017, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Morgan Room, Aiken Hall,
83 Summit Street Champlain College,
Burlington VT**

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Join us for an illustrated talk about an 18th century social institution that was very important to Jane Austen in her own life and her fiction, the Circulating Library. Claire will present its history and then, with references to Austen’s novels and letters, show how central such libraries were in the reading and sharing of books in Regency England. 

*Claire Bellanti holds an M.A. in History (UNLV) and an M.B.A (UCLA). She is retired from a 35 year career as a library professional at UCLA. She is currently President of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and has served in other capacities on the Board of JASNA SW and the Board of JASNA since 1994. She has written and lectured frequently about the UCLA Sadleir Collection of 19th Century Literature, including the Jane Austen contents and Silver Fork portions of the collection.

~ Free & open to the public ~ ~ Light refreshments served ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVTregion@gmail.com / 802-343-2294
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com

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**Aiken Hall is located at 83 Summit St – #36 on the map here: https://www.champlain.edu/Documents/Admissions/Undergraduate%20Admissions/Campus-Map.pdf
Parking is on the street or in any College designated parking during the event.

Please Join Us!

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Ride Like an Austen Heroine: Sidesaddle

Dear Gentle Readers: I welcome today a member of our South Carolina Jane Austen Book Club, Carol Lobdell, who, besides being a lover of Jane Austen, is also an accomplished horsewoman. She recently tried riding sidesaddle for the first time and writes here about how it gave her a better understanding of each of Jane Austen’s horse-riding heroines – think Jane Bennet (in the rain), Fanny Price, Mary Crawford, Elinor Dashwood (alas! only in the movie)…and anyone else??

Ride Like an Austen Heroine: Sidesaddle

Elizabeth Bennett and most of Jane Austen’s heroines show no hesitation to stride miles about the countryside in order to visit friends and family. They also travel on horseback, in many ways the most practical and efficient means to get around the neighborhood at the time.

And if they rode, they did it in a sidesaddle.

Movies and programs like “Downton Abbey” make riding in a sidesaddle look effortless. The image of a woman trotting and cantering on a horse through the English countryside – garbed in elaborately embellished jackets, flowing skirts, and flattering feathered hats – is graceful, romantic, and powerful.

But, folks, it ain’t easy! Ginger Rogers, as the old saying goes, did everything Fred Astaire did, except in high heels and backwards. So too, lady riders for centuries did everything the men did, except with one stirrup!

Image: pinterest

Brief History of the Sidesaddle

Women in antiquity usually weren’t riding horses unless they were passengers, perhaps on a pillion (pillow or platform) behind a male rider (who rode astride) or in a horse-drawn cart. Part of the reason was culture – the males did most of the hunting and fighting, and they did quite a bit of that on horseback – and part was practicality – women wore long skirts that were not conducive to riding astride and risked immodesty. Riding astride was also seen as a risk to virginity and childbearing.

However, as the centuries went on and the titled elite and leisure classes grew, many women wanted to ride for sporting and social reasons.

Tradition has it that that Princess Anne of Bohemia rode side-saddle across Europe in 1382 on her way to marry King Richard II. Riding sidesaddle was seen as a way to protect virginity.

Sources say that the earliest functional sidesaddle was a chair-like construction, where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a footrest. Catherine de Medici is said to have developed a more practical design, placing the rider’s right leg around a pommel (a raised, curved projection or “horn”) at the front of the saddle. Riding this way allowed better control of the horse and enhanced stability, enabling the rider to move beyond the walk, to trot and canter safely. Some early sidesaddles had a U-shaped pommel for the right leg.

A second pommel for the left leg, added in the early 1800s, made “riding aside” even more safe, enabling the rider to gallop and jump, while maintaining modesty and decorum (and virginity). Upper-class ladies rode for pleasure and many “rode to hounds” with their local fox hunts, galloping through the English countryside over ditches, hedges, and fences. (As a rider myself, having fox-hunted in England, I can tell you it’s a challenge even in modern saddles!)

Riding attire evolved along with innovations in the tack. After struggling with daywear for riding, less voluminous “safety skirts” were developed in the late 1800s, evolving into an “apron skirt” which buttoned around the waist, covering the legs. Women donned riding britches under these aprons and that’s still the basic structure of formal sidesaddle attire today.

Diagram showing the position of the legs when riding sidesaddle
[image source – Wikipedia]

Modern Sidesaddles

The saddle and posture of a woman riding sidesaddle back in the day was very much as it is today. The rider first sits astride, with the right hip back to allow the shoulders to fall into line. The right leg is then placed on the front of the saddle (around the upper pommel), with the left leg bent and resting on the saddle (with the thigh under the lower pommel) and the foot in the stirrup.

Below: The right side of a modern sidesaddle. The girth is a standard type that could be used on most saddles. The extra stability strap affixed to the rear of the saddle is unique to a sidesaddle.

Below: The left side of a modern sidesaddle. You can clearly see the two “pommels” for the rider and the single stirrup (looped over the lower pommel).

Women began to ride astride – wearing split skirts or riding britches – in the early 20th Century. Sidesaddle fell out of favor for many years; however, traditionalists and riders looking for variety kept the sidesaddle alive. Today, groups across the country and around the world continue to “ride aside” for fun as well as for sport and competition.

What’s it like to ride like an Austen heroine? I’ve always ridden astride in English saddles, so the basic feel of the saddle was not very different, although it’s a flat saddle seat, not curved like many English saddles. English riding also calls for a straight posture, which is even more important in a sidesaddle to maintain balance. I found the basic posture to be comfortable, much like sitting in a chair with one knee crossed over the other.

Above: The author in a modern sidesaddle, about to take her first trot “aside.”

The biggest difference is that one doesn’t “post” in a sidesaddle (the up-and-down motion riders generally use at the trot) or rise into a half-seat for a jump. No matter what gait the horse is doing – walk, trot, canter or jumping – the sidesaddle rider stays glued to the seat of the saddle. For jumping, the rider bends forward at the hip to follow the motion of the horse, instead of rising into a half-seat as the horse jumps.

The first few minutes in the sidesaddle felt very unbalanced, though, as I’m used both legs hugging the horse and a firm seat on the horse’s back. With only one stirrup, I was very wary about stability and steering. However, I was able to walk in both directions in the sidesaddle pretty quickly, once I got the hang of the balance and kept my weight over on the right hipbone. Trotting took a bit more practice, with the key, again, keeping the balance to the right hipbone, an upright posture and firm seat on the saddle. It did feel odd not to have the right foot in a stirrup. The left foot (in the stirrup) was useful for steering, as always. Without the right stirrup, it was a little more difficult to steer, but happily, I was on an experienced sidesaddle horse for the lesson (Lulu, a lovely mare), so she was able to interpret my body language and instructions pretty well. A sidesaddle rider also uses a crop or whip in the right hand to help make up for the missing right stirrup. The riding was really quite comfortable, I thought. (Next time I give it a try, maybe a short canter!)

There are a number of sidesaddle groups around the USA and the UK. In the US, women don safety aprons and fox hunt as well as compete. Sidesaddle jumping is a standalone sport; only the brave need apply! The current world record for sidesaddle jumping has stood since 1915, when Esther Stace, of Australia, cleared a record 6’6” at the Sydney Royal Show.

In Mexican-style rodeos, the women in California’s Escaramuza Charra drill teams perform complicated patterns at high speed in sidesaddles. They ride aside, or “to mujeriegas,” in a saddle known as an albarda, in quick, complex maneuvers often performed on horses with reining training. Traditional costumes with layers of petticoats under decorated skirts or breeches and jackets are the usual garb. [image from damacharra.com]

I enjoyed my sidesaddle lesson and plan to take a few more. Whether I invest in a saddle and attire remains to be seen, but it’s always fun to try something new in a sport that I love, with the extra fun of riding like an Austen heroine!

For Further Reading:

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Thank you Carol! Anyone out there want to share their own sidesaddle experiences? (and one question: is it side saddle, side-saddle or sidesaddle??)

c2017, Jane Austen in Vermont. Text and photographs (unless otherwise noted) by Carol Lobdell