The South Carolina Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America and the Bluffton Library present:
March 25, 2023, 2 – 4 pm
Bluffton Library Free and open to the public / Light refreshments served
“Tally-Ho! Horses and Fox-Hunting in Jane Austen’s England”
Jane Austen and her contemporaries were all familiar with the sport of fox hunting, whether they “rode to hounds” themselves or watched the action from the sidelines. The sport was integral to rural English communities and social interactions, and drew participation from all strata of English society. Mounted fox hunting had practical origins — foxes preyed on poultry, sheep, and cattle, so farmers were happy to be rid of them — and evolved over time into a major social and sporting activity. Rich in tradition, the sport continues around the globe, with active hunts in almost every state in the US.
Carol Lobdell, a Bluffton resident, has been an equestrian for more than 25 years and is a fox hunter herself. She has ridden with more than a dozen different hunts, including three in England. She will discuss the origins and development of the sport, its meaning and role in English society in the Regency years, and the sport’s activities today.
Questions? Call the Bluffton Library 843-255-6503.
Today’s post is about Brenda Cox and her just-published Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can follow the other blog posts on this tour here. [See at the end of this post for information on the giveaway.]
A few thoughts: I was honored when Brenda asked me to write a blurb for the cover, and I repeat that here with a few additional thoughts. I would first say that I have read a few works on Austen and religion, all of them enlightening in their own way. We do need to have some inkling of this religious world Austen grew up in, and the religion she practiced, to see that dimension in her writing. I am a born and raised Episcopalian [my parents were Anglican] and much of what Brenda writes in her book was very superficially known to me, at least those parts about the Church hierarchy, prayers and liturgy and hymns. What was enlightening was how Brenda wove all the details of the Church itself, and its spiritual foundations into a fuller understanding of what Jane Austen is actually saying in her novels, in the plots, the characters, and the settings – this book is a compelling read and you won’t look at the novels and the characters in the same way ever again. Just the tables, definitions, and references alone are worth the price of admission.
Fashionable Goodness is a meticulously researched, faultlessly organized, and engaging study of how religion, in all its forms, features in Jane Austen’s world, her life, and her writings.
Starting with Henry Tilney’s famous defense of “the English” in Northanger Abbey, Cox reveals the facts of Jane Austen’s faith, the realities and challenges of practicing religion in the Regency period, and with biographical sketches of the leading religious leaders and analysis of the various denominations of the time, she puts into context the explicit and subtle religious references in Austen’s novels. This Christian world permeates Austen’s writings and a fuller understanding of the Church and its clerical hierarchy and the emphasis on living a moral “good” life will open up a clearer view of Austen’s plots, characters, and underlying themes. You will look at Mr. Collins, the Crawfords and the Dashwoods, the Tilneys, the Wickhams and Willoughbys, all the “good” and the “not so good” people that populate the novels (and especially Fanny Price!) with new and surprising insights. Bravo to Brenda Cox for giving us this very accessible illuminating take on the “fashionable goodness” of Austen’s era.
An Excerpt from the first chapter, beginning as I say above with my favorite Hero, Henry Tilney:
“Jane Austen’s England, A Foreign Country (Foreign to Modern Readers)”
“Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.”—Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, ch. 24
How can we understand “the country and the age” in which Jane Austen lived? Her society is poles apart from our modern world, despite some points of similarity. As L. P. Hartley insightfully begins a novel set in 1900 [The Go-Between], “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” The world of Austen’s novels is foreign to us, whether we live in the United States, modern England, or elsewhere. To enter this “foreign country,” the civilization that spawned Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and Emma Woodhouse, we need to learn its language and culture. While we may interpret Austen’s timeless novels according to our own experiences and values, we can enjoy them more deeply as we get to know Austen’s world.
Religious practices and values influenced many aspects of Austen’s culture. For example, in politics, the Church of England was (and is) the national church of England; the Pilgrims and Puritans fled to America to escape its authority. The sovereign was the head of the church, bishops and archbishops were members of the House of Lords, and Parliament made laws regulating worship, the clergy, and churches. From 1810 to 1820 (the Regency), the Prince Regent governed the country because of his father’s illness. Jane Austen disapproved of the Regent’s immoral lifestyle, but when he asked her to dedicate Emma to him, she respectfully complied, since it was her duty as a Christian to obey her country’s leader.
Religious values also guided family relationships. Honoring one’s parents was an important religious duty, given in the Ten Commandments in the Bible and elaborated in the Church of England catechism. In Mansfield Park, Edmund and Fanny are shocked by Mary’s disrespect for her uncle who raised her; Mary is showing poor moral values (ch. 7). Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice carries this to a ridiculous extreme when he delays reconciling with his cousins out of respect for his father’s memory, since his father was at odds with them (ch. 13). Disrespect toward a husband or wife was also considered immoral. In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby shows his poor character by criticizing his wife, and Elinor rebukes him (ch. 44).
As Laura Mooneyham White points out in Jane Austen’s Anglicanism, the “foundational worldview” of modern Christians, including modern Anglicans, differs radically from the worldview of the Georgian-era Anglican Church. Because of this, we may miss some of the deeper dimensions of Austen’s novels….
To understand the church’s pervasive influence in Austen’s world, we also need to recognize some the issues it was facing. Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford argue about several: clergy without a calling, clergy who did not live in their parishes, and “fashionable goodness.” Was it enough to follow the fashions of the city and show up at church on Sundays, ignoring religion the rest of the week? Or, as new movements in the church stressed, should people seek a personal relationship with God that affected their hearts and behavior? Even for Mr. Darcy, being “given good principles” – knowing theoretical religious truths – was insufficient to make him a man Elizabeth could respect and marry…
Jane Austen’s religious beliefs, and the beliefs of her society, are often overlooked. She does not talk as openly about religion as today’s Christian writers do, or even as some of her contemporaries did. And yet, as Henry Tilney points out, being “Christian” was part of the English identity. Jane Austen’s personal identity was also Christian, as we shall see in the next chapter. In the rest of the book, we’ll explore the crucial part Christianity played in Austen’s stories and in her world. In Austen’s England, morality came directly from religion….
Author interview: I asked Brenda a few questions about why she wrote this book and how it has affected her reading of Austen:
DEB: You have said you titled the book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, because during Austen’s time, it was fashionable to attend church and pretend to be “good,” but that the immorality of the Prince Regent and others seemed more fashionable, leading the influential William Wilberforce and others to try to reform “manners” [meaning behavior] – Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park explains that “manners” meant behavior, how people acted based on their religious principles. So I would ask you: which of Austen’s novels focuses most on the church and this idea of “manners”?
BRENDA: Mansfield Park, hands down. Edmund and Mary Crawford discuss the importance of the clergy (those responsible for “all that is of the first importance to mankind”). Edmund and Henry Crawford discuss preaching and leading church services. Fanny, physically weak, displays great moral strength in refusing to marry an “unprincipled” (irreligious) man. Also, godly traditional values are contrasted with the immorality of the city. I appreciate Mansfield Park far more than I did before, now that I understand its religious background.
DEB: Your book is packed with information, from how the Church of England is organized, the challenges the church faced during Austen’s time, and the legacy it still holds for us. How did you decide to organize it?
BRENDA: My background is in engineering, and I tried to structure Fashionable Goodness logically. It starts, of course, with Jane Austen and her novels. We look at things like her personal faith, the lives of her clergymen, and worship during her time. Two chapters address how some of the church’s values played out in everyday life, particularly in the areas of marriage and divorce, and in scientific advances.
Part 2 then looks at challenges to Austen’s Church of England. Some of those, like the system of patronage and different levels of clergymen, are addressed in the novels. Others, like the Methodist movement and the place of different economic groups and races in the church, give background. I wove in fascinating stories of men and women leaders of the time.
As I saw how the church was making an impact on the country and the world, I added Part 3. It shows the impact of committed Christians of Austen’s era, ranging from the abolition of the slave trade to the Sunday school movement that educated millions of poor children and adults, breaking cycles of poverty and dependence.
DEB: What spiritual messages do you think Austen was trying to convey through her novels?
BRENDA: Austen always promoted moral behavior. But she didn’t do it by preaching and telling people what to do. Instead, she showed examples, both positive and negative. Readers of Pride and Prejudice, for instance, might learn to avoid judging and ridiculing other people. We might instead want to be more like Jane Bennet, assuming the best of others until the worst is clearly proven. (This was a religious virtue called candour in Austen’s time; posts on my blog explore this and other “faith words.”)
DEB: Which of her novels speaks most strongly to you personally?
BRENDA: Usually my favorite Austen novel, and the one that speaks to me most, is whichever one I have read most recently. Right now that is Sense and Sensibility, which I’ve read repeatedly in the months leading up to the JASNA AGM. It has made me more aware of emotions and their effect on us and other people. We can express our emotions selfishly, as Marianne did, not caring how we make others feel. Or we can recognize them in ourselves, as Elinor did, and choose ways to respond that do not hurt our loved ones. In this, Elinor was doing her Christian “duty,” to love her neighbour as herself. However, I also think Austen put Elinor in a worst-case scenario. Elinor’s promise to Lucy made it impossible for Elinor to tell her family what she felt. In other circumstances she might have shared her pain with her family in healthy ways.
About the Author: Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen since she came across a copy of Emma as a young adult; she went out and bought a whole set of the novels as soon as she finished it! She has spent years researching the church in Austen’s England, visiting English churches and reading hundreds of books and articles, including many written by Austen’s contemporaries. She speaks at Jane Austen Society of North America meetings (including three AGMs) and writes for Persuasions On-Line[JASNA journal) and the websites Jane Austen’s World and Brenda’s own blog Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. You can find bonus material on the book here as well.
Brenda is offering a book giveaway [paperback or ebook] – Please comment below or ask Brenda a question [she will respond here] by Wednesday November 9 and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy [there are some limitations to worldwide shipping] – I will announce the winner on November 10th. Here are some prompts for commenting, or please ask your own.
1. What is one character trait you think Jane Austen most valued, based on her novels?
2. Who is your favorite clergyman or clergyman’s wife from Austen’s novels? And why?
3. What is one question you have about the church in Austen’s England, or the church and clergy in her novels?
*[N.B.: The giveaway is limited to addresses in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, or Italy for a print copy of the book. The author can only send a giveaway ebook to a US address. (However, both the ebook and paperack are available for sale to customers from any of these countries, and some others that have amazon.)
Head-up everyone! The blog tour for Brenda Cox’s just released Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England begins today. I will be posting more on October 25th along with a giveaway, but here are a few thoughts as to what this book has to offer and how it will enlarge your understanding of Jane Austen’s world:
Jane Austen transports us to a world of elegance and upheaval. The Church of England, at the heart of her life and her world, is key to understanding her stories. Readers may wonder:
Why could Mr. Collins, a rector, afford to marry a poor woman, while Mr. Elton, a vicar, could not?
What conflicting religious duties led Elizabeth Bennet to turn down two marriage proposals?
Why did Mansfield Park’s early readers (unlike most today) love Fanny Price?
What part did people of color, like Miss Lambe of Sanditon, play in English society?
How did Austen’s church impact people’s lives and the world?
Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England answers these questions and many more. It explores:
Austen’s Church of England, as we see it in her novels,
Challenges the church was facing, reflected in her stories, and
Ways the church in Austen’s England transformed England and the world.
Comprehensive, yet affordable and easy to read, Fashionable Goodness will help you see Austen’s beloved novels and characters in richer and deeper ways.
Here is the tour schedule – check back each day for the updated links:
“Finally! Fashionable Goodness is the Jane Austen reference book that’s been missing from the bookshelves of every Austen fan and scholar.” ~ Rachel Dodge, bestselling author of Praying with Jane
“Brenda Cox’s Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England is an indispensable guide to all things religious in Jane Austen’s world.” ~ Roger E. Moore, Vanderbilt University, author of Jane Austen and the Reformation
“This scholarly, detailed work is a triumph. Easily read, helpful and accurate, it provides a fascinating panorama of 18th century Anglicanism and the various challenges the Church and wider society faced. Cox’s many insights will enrich readers’ understanding and appreciation of Jane Austen’s novels and her life as a devout Christian.”~ The Revd. Canon Michael Kenning, vice-chairman of the Jane Austen Society (U. K.) and former rector of Steventon
Where to Buy:
Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England is now available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books. [For international Amazon, you can to this link.]
When: Saturday, November 5, 2022, 2:00 – 4:00 pm What: Talk on “Gender and the Decorative Arts in Jane Austen’s Novels” with Kristen Miller Zohn* Where: Bluffton Library, 120 Palmetto Way, Bluffton, SC
During the Georgian period, women and men alike had a great interest in architecture, interior design, and fashion, and there was an expectation that the concepts of femininity and masculinity would be reflected in these spheres. This slide lecture will present images of decorative arts, interior design, and clothing to explore how those that are presented in Austen’s novels speak to the roles of women and men in her era.
*Kristen Miller Zohn is the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Lauren, Mississippi, as well as the Executive Director of the Costume Society of America.
Please RSVP: jasnavermont [at] gmail.com or the Bluffton Library, 843-255-6503
Can there possibly be any signs of Spring with current temperatures what they are?! Even here today in South Carolina we are at 28 degrees [warming up to maybe 53…I live in Hope]! So I happily welcome Pam Braak, NAFCH Treasurer and Tarrant County (TX) Master Gardener, with her thoughts on Chawton House and the Snowdrop:
The Snowdrop ~ Harbinger of Spring
I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing, robin, sing:
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.
–Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), from “The First Spring Day”
Chawton House recently announced their participation in the National Garden Scheme’s Snowdrop Sunday, with an event on February 6. The National Garden Scheme in the UK brings joy to this Texas gardener — and envy that I cannot participate without a transatlantic flight. I wondered about the snowdrop mania in the UK and if there exists an analogous passion for them in the U.S.
We have Garden Conservancy Open Days in the U.S. but that cannot compare to the immense number of gardens that the NGS organizes each year. Privately owned gardens open each year to visitors, with admission fees donated to health-related charities. In 2020 there were over 3,700 gardens due to open. Imagine the choices! For the Snowdrop Festival in February, 100 gardens are participating, including Chawton House.
George Plumptre, Chief Executive of the National Garden Scheme, says: “Following the restrictions of 2020 and 2021 there has never been a greater need to start the new year with the beautiful freshness of the first blooms of spring. But garden visiting at this time of year is not just for galanthophiles who are looking to discover a rare variety of snowdrop in gardens they may never otherwise find. Snowdrops are the perfect antidote to the winter blues and spending the afternoon at one of our 100 Snowdrop Festival gardens is the ideal opportunity to get outside and enjoy some spectacular scenes at an otherwise gloomy time of year.”
Common Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis
“Snowdrops: theirs is a fragile but hardy celebration
– in the very teeth of winter”
Louise Beebe Wilde (1878-1938), American gardening writer
Snowdrops enjoy a cult following in the UK where aficionados are known as galanthophiles. No doubt these enthusiasts will be spotted around the Chawton House gardens getting down on their knees and even lying on their bellies to enjoy and photograph these late-winter wonders. Galanthophiles are collectors of much more than common snowdrops. The lure of collecting the 2,500 plus varieties is quite a draw. Galanthophiles look for snowdrops in old gardens, but there are plenty for sale, some at phenomenal prices. Per “Fun facts about Snowdrops – National Garden Scheme” , a single Galanthus plicatus “Golden Fleece” sold for £1,390 on eBay in 2015! Akin to the tulip craze in seventeenth-century Holland.
There are a plethora of festivals and tours in the UK celebrating the snowdrop. For instance, in Dorset the citizens of Shaftesbury have planted more than 200,000 snowdrop bulbs since 2017 and have an annual festival. Stateside, I did find the Galanthus Gala in Downingtown, PA but I do not think our fondness approaches UK levels. [Here is their facebook page with a virtual event in 2021, nothing yet for 2022 on there.]
Snowdrops are easy to grow, tough, and often push through the snow to bloom. You can find several varieties for sale online in the U.S., but I doubt you’ll locate 2,500 varieties. They are recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7, growing best in partial sun and partial shade. In the southern zone where I live, the bulbs may decline over time; this is a plant that is most likely best suited to cooler climates. In the meantime, I content myself with growing a relative, summer snowflakes Leucojum aestivum, which bloom in February, contrary to their name. In my garden, I must be content to just dream of swaths of snowdrops.
Various varieties of Galanthus
Thank you Pam for bringing us a little joy into our climate-stressed, virus-ridden world – I think even Jane Austen would be smiling! [Does she mention snowdrops anywhere??]
Jane Austen on 7 March 7 1814, from London to Cassandra in Chawton:
Monday. Here’s a day! – The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? – We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant. – Mr. Richard Snow* is dreadfuly fond of us. I dare say he has stretched himself out at Chawton too.
Ltr. 98, 5-8 March 1814, p. 270 [Le Faye, 4th ed.]
Jane Austen’s Letters are an absolute must-have in your collection. There is nothing like reading these late at night, Jane Austen hovering over your shoulder. Considered rather mundane by the scholarly world when they first appeared – filled as they are with local gossip, fashion and food news, the periodic snide comment about friends and neighbors, and very little about her reading and writing – they have in succeeding years been picked over, and picked over again, to find the minutest insight into Austen and her world.
I find them a pure delight – seeing Austen as she was, mostly in missives to her sister, but also to her brothers, her friends, and publishers – it is like being inside her head at any given moment as she shares her thoughts, observations, and very caustic wit about the goings-on around her – a participant, but always the objective, sometimes judgmental, observer…
One-hundred and sixty letters remain from what has been surmised to have been thousands Austen likely wrote. Cassandra’s “great conflagration” before her own death in 1845 saw the destruction of who knows what else Austen had to say about her own life – the gaps in dates give the reader such a sense of loss – what happened in those intervening days and years?? – and thus the fabric of novels is made. Of these 160 extant letters, most are scattered around various institutions or remain in private hands – location of each is noted in Le Faye’s exhaustive work.
Well, a true collector should have them all – you can find a good list in Gilson at G, a mere 8 pages (1982 ed.) with an additional three pages in the revised edition of 1997. While having them all would be a collector’s dream, you at least must have the 4th ed. by Le Faye if you are to understand anything at all about Jane Austen. But here is my list of the basic should-haves:
1. 1817: Henry Austen’s “Biographical Notice” postscript dated 20 December 1817 – Henry included a few extracts from her letters in this notice that appeared in the first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (London: John Murray, 1818).
2. 1870: James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen(London: Bentley, 1870) – includes extracts and some letters in their entirety.
3. 1884: The Letters of Jane Austen, edited with an introduction and critical remarks by Edward, Lord Brabourne (London: Bentley, 1884). Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, son of Austen’s niece Fanny Knight, published 96 of the letters left to him by his mother – mostly includes letters to Cassandra, but also to Fanny, Anna Lefroy, and the two letters written by Cassandra on Austen’s death.
4. 1906: Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers, by John Henry Hubback and Edith Charlotte Hubback (London: John Lane, 1906) – this biography of Francis and Charles Austen includes for the first time Jane’s letters to her sailor brothers.
5. 1913: Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (London: Smith-Elder, 1913) – quoted from all the letters known at that time.
6. 1924: Five Letters from Jane Austen to her Niece Fanny Knight, printed in facsimile (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924) – the full text of the letters from Austen to her niece (they were incompletely printed in Brabourne’s collection.
7. 1925: The Letters of Jane Austen, selected with an introduction by R. Brimley Johnson (London: John Lane, 1925) – a selection of 44 letters from the Brabourne Letters, The Sailor Brothers, and the Austen-Leigh Life.
8. 1932: Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra, collected and edited by R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1932) – the first definitive edition, printed from the actual manuscripts where possible with those letters not accessible taken from Brabourne. There was a 2nd ed. published in 1952 with the addition of 6 more letters but few other changes. Chapman also published a selection of the letters (about one-third) in 1955, and again in 1985 with an introduction by Marilyn Butler.
9. 1981: Five Letters from Jane Austen to Her Sister Cassandra, 1813, with an introduction by David Gilson (Brisbane: Lock’s Press, 1981) – a limited edition of 60 copies.
10. 1990: Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, edited by Jo Modert (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990 – a reproduction of all letters that could be located – the introduction is invaluable and seeing each letter in its original state is fascinating.
11. 1990: My Dear Cassandra…a collection of Jane Austen’s Lettersselected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (London: Collins and Brown, 1990) – letters selected from the Brabourne Letters, not complete, but it does include many fabulous contemporary illustrations.
12. 1992: “Seven letters from Austen to Francis and Charles” published as a keepsake for those at the JASNA AGM (Alto Loma: Bookhaven Press, 1992) – a miniature booklet limited to 300 copies, these were given to attendees of the 1992 AGM in Santa Monica, CA – the theme was “The Letters, Focusing on Travel and the Sea.”
13. 1995: Jane Austen’s Letters, New Edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995) – a 3rd edition of the Chapman Letters but with Le Faye’s ceaseless and energetic scholarship into those not fully identified by Chapman as well as the addition of 12 more letters – Le Faye’s notes are mine of information on provenance, current location of each letter (if known), every detail on people and places and allusions are noted; includes biographical and topographical indexes. The lacking full subject indexes found in Chapman were added into the 4th edition (see below)…
There is also a fine publication of this 1995 edition by the Folio Society:
14. 2004: Selected Letters [of Jane Austen], selected with an introduction and notes by Vivien Jones (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004) – based on the 3rd ed. of the letters by Deirdre Le Faye from 1995. You need these paperback editions so you have something to write-in and underline (!).
14. 2011: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed., collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011; paperback ed. 2014) – no new letters have been discovered since the 1995 ed, but much additional information has been added regarding Austen’s life and her endless references in the letters. Indexes and notes have been updated, as well as the addition of the all-important Subject Index.
There are other editions out there – I also have the small Oxford World Classics blue hardcover of Chapman Letters with the dust jacket, not often seen – if you should find this, buy it immediately…
[Please note: Our house is being renovated and all my books are packed up – so while some of these images are mine, I had to also mine the internet for others!]
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.
“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”
“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”
“I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”
[Pride & Prejudice, Vol. 1, Ch. 8]
And so, to truly understand what Mr. Darcy is driving at, to understand anything about Jane Austen’s world, you need to study this quite formidable lady, if indeed such a one existed! – and there is no better book on the subject than Noël Riley’s The Accomplished Lady: A History of Genteel Pursuits c.1660-1860(Oblong, 2017).
“This is a study of the skills and pastimes of upper-class women and the works they produced during a 200-year period. These activities included watercolours, printmaking and embroidery, shell work, rolled and cut paper work, sand painting, wax flower modelling, painting on fabrics and china, leather work, japanning, silhouettes, photography and many other activities, some familiar and others little known.
The context for these activities sets the scene: the general position of women in society and the constraints on their lives, their virtues and values, marriage, domestic life and education. This background is amplified with chapters on other aspects of women’s experience, such as sport, reading, music, dancing and card-playing.”[from the book jacket].
Table of Contents:
1. A Woman’s Lot 2. Educating a Lady 3. Reading and Literary Pursuits [my favorite chapter] 4. Cards, Indoor Games and Theatricals 5. The Sporting Lady 6. Dancing and Public Entertainment 7. Music 8. Embroidery 9. Threads and Ribbons 10. Beadwork 11. Shellwork 12. Nature into Art 13. Paperwork 14. Drawing and Painting 15. Creativity with Paints and Prints 16. Japanning 17. Penwork 18. Silhouettes 19. Photography and the Victorian Lady 20. Sculpture, Carving, Turning and Metalwork 21. Toys and Trifles.
Includes extensive notes, an invaluable bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and an index.
I have mentioned before that in collecting Jane Austen, you will often go off into necessary tangents to learn about her Life and Times – this can take you in any number of directions, but understanding the Domestic Arts of the Regency period is an absolute must – and there are MANY books on the subject, cookery alone could fill shelves. But here in this one book we find a lavishly illustrated, impeccably researched study of all the possible activities a lady of leisure [no cookery for My Lady] can get herself caught up in….whether she becomes accomplished or not is beyond our knowing, but certainly Mr. Darcy would find at least ONE lady in these pages who might meet his strict requirements, despite Elizabeth’s doubting rant.
It is always a worthwhile effort to check the index of every book you pick up to see if Jane Austen gets a mention. And here we are not disappointed – Austen shows up on many pages, and five of her six novels are cited in the bibliography – all but Persuasion for some odd reason – one would think Anne Elliot’s skills at the pianoforte would have merited a mention?
This image of page 165 quotes Austen about patchwork when she writes to Cassandra on 31 May 1811:“Have you remembered to collect peices for the Patchwork?”
So, let’s stop to think about the varied accomplishments of Austen’s many female characters…anyone want to comment and give a shout out to your own favorite and her accomplishments / or lack thereof? Is anyone up to Mr. Darcy’s standards?
I shall take a little side road today with this discussion of must-haves in your Jane Austen collection – here an example of a book Jane Austen had read, referred to, satirized, and which then became the most interesting thing about Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.
Part of collecting Jane Austen is to learn about and possibly add to your collection those books known to have been read by her, a fascinating list compiled from the many allusions in her novels and her letters. You can start with R. W. Chapman’s “Index of Literary Allusions, which you can find online.
Chapman’s list first appeared in the NA and P volume of the Oxford edition we looked at last week – more has been added to this – but this is a good start – you could spend the rest of your life just collecting “allusion” books and you will completely forget what you were collecting in the first place.
But Fordyce is one you must have, should read, for if nothing else it will give you a better idea of where Mr. Collins is coming from and what Austen has to say about both he AND Fordyce.
Sermons to Young Women, by Dr. James Fordyce, is certainly one the most well-known of all the various conduct manuals Austen would have had access to, published in London in 1766, “and by 1814, the year after Pride and Prejudice appeared, it had gone though 14 editions published in London alone.” [Ford, intro, i].
We all recall that in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins chooses to read Fordyce’s Sermons aloud to the Bennet sisters, Lydia especially unimpressed:
By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:
“Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.”
Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:
“I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin.” [P&P, Ch. XIV]
Collins, done with such young and frivolous young ladies, heads off for a game of backgammon with Mr. Bennet…
Illustrators of Pride and Prejudice have turned this scene into a visual treat:
Hugh Thomson, P&P (George Allen, 1894)
Chris Hammond, P&P, Gresham, 1900
Fordyce (1720-1796) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a poet, but is most known for his Sermons. He also published Addresses to Young Men in 1777. But would we even be talking about him today if it weren’t for Jane Austen??!
Much has been written about Austen and Fordyce – the point being, you need a copy. You can find it in one of its original editions on used bookstore sites for not over the top prices – or there are many, many reprints out there.
One of the best of these is the facsimile reprint of the 10th ed. of 1786 and published by Chawton House Press in 2012. Susan Allen Ford wrote the valuable introduction and it also includes a fine bibliography. This edition is unfortunately out-of-print and I am hoping that they will republish it in the near future. It was a best-seller in its time and again today! Who knew!
How Jane Austen revolutionized the way the world viewed women
by Jasmine A. Stirling
Author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice
Readers looking for a little escapism might pick up a Jane Austen novel in search of light romantic comedy, not realizing how iconoclastic the beloved author’s books truly were.
This is in fact, by design. First of all, Austen’s work is above all, great art. It’s manifold purposes are intentionally disguised in delightfully fun and witty prose, designed to propel us through the story and entertain while also educating readers.
Secondly, Austen was writing at a time when women’s roles were strictly circumscribed. She knew that any overt critique of the patriarchal culture in which she and her characters lived would likely prevent her from being published, reviewed, and/or widely read. The trick was never to be too explicit about anything, so as not to alert the powers that be (wealthy men) that she might be poking holes in the system from which they derived their many privileges. Austen found a way to do just that in her novels—without transgressing the bounds of decorum, of good taste, of sound judgment, and equanimity.
But Austen’s critiques are there, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Let’s explore how Austen’s six beloved novels revolutionized the way the world viewed women.
Jane Austen’s heroines challenged the prevailing notion of the ideal woman as decorative, passive, emotional, and morally perfect.
When reading Austen, it is important to keep in mind that the ideal Regency lady was about as different from Lizzie Bennet as you can imagine. As one author wrote of the Regency ideal:
“The feminine ideal . . . may best be deﬁned as an interesting compound of moral perfection and intellectual deficiency . . . She was required to be before all things a “womanly woman” meek, timid, trustful, clinging, yielding, unselfish, helpless and dependent, robust in neither body nor mind, but rather “fine by defect and amiably weak.” [She has not] laid aside the poetry of languor and the seductive debility that invested her with the allurement of a convalescent flower.”
Or, as Scottish moralist John Gregory instructed his daughters in the 1770s: “Wit is the most dangerous talent you can possess . . . if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men.”
In addition to being morally perfect and intellectually deficient, the ideal Regency bride was very young, and came with a large fortune—which her husband would take possession of immediately after the wedding.
It is not surprising, then, that in this time period (as in our own), female characters—written overwhelmingly by male authors—were often portrayed in one dimension. After all, as Anne Elliot wryly observed, “The pen has been in their hands.” In most novels and plays, women were caricatures: morally loose and wicked; virginal, demure, and sweet; saintly and motherly; scheming and power-hungry.
Not so Jane Austen’s heroines. Seen in this light, Lizzy Bennet is not only an incredibly charming, lovable leading lady filled with quirks and flaws; she is downright subversive. “When Austen allows Elizabeth to express critical attitudes,” scholar Judith Lowder Newton writes, “to act upon them without penalty, when she endows Elizabeth with the power to alter her lot, Austen is moving against traditional notions of feminine behavior and feminine fate.”
In fact, in one way or another, all of Austen’s heroines buck gender norms or fall far short of the Regency ideal. Yet are all rewarded handsomely at the end—with love and riches. Lizzy is cheeky and opinionated, Emma is insensitive and meddlesome. Elinor and Marianne are frightfully poor, while Fanny is both poor and low-born. Catherine is obsessed with novels, and Anne Elliot is old and no longer pretty. Most of Austen’s heroines (Emma being an exception) are intellectual and well-read.
Furthermore, it is taken absolutely for granted by Austen that each of her heroines is, or can become, able to make her own life decisions—without any reference to men, her parents, or her social betters. This alone is a radical assumption, coming from a culture in which gender, family honor, and class dictated nearly everything a woman was permitted to say, do, and think.
But Austen didn’t stop there. She also used humor to challenge notions of ideal femininity. In Mansfield Park, Lady Bertram is so passive that she is unable to rise from the sofa, let alone form her own thoughts. Entertaining, frivolous characters like Lydia Bennet and Mary Crawford are viciously satirized. Traditional Georgian accomplishments such as “netting a purse” are ridiculed. Furthermore, Austen’s most desirable male suitors have no interest in the ideal Regency woman. Mr. Darcy, for example, requires that his mate possess “the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
In fact, I am hard pressed to point to heroines in today’s novels, films and TV shows that shine quite as brightly or depict women quite as realistically as Jane Austen’s did more than 200 years ago.
By raising up complicated, unique, bright, obstinate, and flawed women, then showing us their struggles and journeys of transformation, and finally rewarding them with love and happiness, Jane Austen obliterated unrealistic (and frankly, disturbing) notions of perfect, monolithic femininity, forever upending the way the world viewed women.
Jane Austen’s heroines helped readers experience first-hand the shockingly precarious and brutally inhumane status of women in Regency England.
During the Regency period, marriage required a woman to give up everything to her husband—her money, her freedom, her body, and her legal existence. Husbands were legally permitted to beat their wives, rape them, imprison them, and take their children away without their consent.
Divorce in the Regency era could only be achieved by a private act of Parliament, and was exceedingly rare. Lower classes could sell their wives in the marketplace, which functioned as a form of divorce. The woman was led to market with a halter tied around her neck and sold to the highest bidder.
The laws of primogeniture and entailed property dictated that, upon his death, the bulk of a man’s inheritance typically be handed down to his eldest son or closest living male relative. If a woman inherited anything after her husband died, it was arranged at the time of the marriage and based on the assets she brought to the union. Often she got little or nothing at all.
Opting out of marriage was not a viable option for most women. Because most people believed that females were vastly intellectually inferior to males, there were no universities for women, and nearly all professions were reserved exclusively for men. A spinster often faced a life of poverty, ridicule, and dependence on the charity of her male relatives.
As a result, for Austen, “a story about love and marriage wasn’t ever a light and frothy confection.” Hidden in all that effervescent prose are subtle but seething critiques of Regency society, laws, and gender norms. Austen used romantic comedy to expose the incredibly high stakes of the marriage game for women who had no other options. She helped readers see the precariousness, anxiety and vulnerability of real women—showing the brutality of their situation more poignantly, entertainingly, and intimately than any political treatise could have achieved.
In Sense and Sensibility, we feel the injustice of inheritance laws when Henry Dashwood dies and his wife and children are forced to leave their home and live at the mercy of the heir, Mrs. Dashwood’s stepson, John. John chooses to give them little help, and overnight, Mrs. Dashwood goes from living in splendor to barely scraping by.
In Pride and Prejudice, the key context for the story is that the Bennet family home, Longborne, is entailed to the insufferable Mr. Collins. If his daughters do not marry before their father dies, they will be left to depend on the charity of their male relatives (a situation Austen knew well, as it was hers after her father died).
Although Austen’s heroines find both love and riches, unhappy and loveless marriages far outnumber happy ones in her novels. Wickham is bribed into marrying Lydia; she will have to endure a lifetime of his womanizing ways. Willoughby rejects Marianne, opting for Miss Grey’s £50,000. Charlotte Lucas, twenty-seven years old and superior in character, temperament, and intellect, to the pompous and revolting Mr. Collins, accepts his offer of marriage because “it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune,” thereby relieving her brothers of the burden of providing for her as an old maid. In fact, Charlotte “felt all the good luck of it.”
In these and many other examples, the reality of women’s narrow options, their shocking lack of personal freedom, and their extreme financial vulnerability ring loud and clear. For the first time in history, Austen’s novels humanized and personalized women’s issues in a revolutionary way, adding fuel to the fire for radical new ideas that were just beginning to circulate about women’s rights, education, and opportunities.
Jane Austen championed the radical idea of the ideal marriage as a match between two rational and emotional equals.
While the bleak fates of many of Austen’s female characters illustrate the limited options facing women in the Regency era, happy endings await her heroines. These happy endings also challenged mainstream Regency notions of marriage, which typically looked very unlike that of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
A middle or upper class Regency marriage was often a male-dominated exchange, dictated by two families coming together to consolidate their fortunes. When she married, a woman passed from the control of her father to that of her husband. She might have the opportunity to reject a suitor, or choose from a number of suitors; or she might be a passive participant in this exchange, depending on her circumstances and family culture. In either case, her submissiveness after the wedding was considered crucial to its success. Austen rejected this model of marriage as ideal in her novels and in her life, writing to her niece that “nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without Love.”
Notions of marriage were changing rapidly in Austen’s era, inspired primarily by the Romantics—poets, authors and philosophers who believed that marriage should be fueled exclusively by romantic love—but Austen also rejected this ideal.
While the Romantics insisted that choosing a partner should be about unleashing one’s most passionate feelings, Austen championed the classical, Aristotelian philosophy of balance between emotion and reason when choosing a partner for life. The successful coming of age of an Austen heroine hinges on her learning to discern the true nature of a suitor, not simply the appearance he projects. It also often requires that she look beyond her emotional impulses and fall in love with a man’s character and temperament—as in the case of Marianne Dashwood and Elizabeth Bennet, who are initially attracted to handsome, romantic rakes.
Indeed, flashy romantic suitors like Mr. Wickham and John Willoughby often prove to be wicked, scheming, and insincere. By contrast, more subdued men like Colonel Brandon and Captain Wentworth attempt to restrain their emotions in order to preserve the honor of the women they admire, and wait to betray their feelings until they are certain they are ready to propose.
Furthermore, Austen’s heroines, although driven by love, do not neglect to consider the practical implications of marrying well. After all, it is only after seeing Pemberley with her own eyes that Lizzie finally relents and accepts Mr. Darcy’s proposal, famously thinking as she looks across the valley at his vast estate: “To be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”
In all of these respects, Austen was, and still is, a fresh voice on the topic of marriage. Our own era is still firmly in the grip of the Romantic frenzy—emotional love songs, extravagant courtships and proposals, an emphasis on being swept away in one’s feelings, and fairy tales with happy endings dominate popular culture.
For Austen, a classical reverence for balance—equal parts reason and emotion—reigned supreme, especially on the part of the woman, who had far more to lose in marriage than her male counterpart. Too much reason, and you have Elinor Dashwood, a woman who is initially a little too selfless and withdrawn. Too much emotion, and you have her sister Marianne, a woman who follows her feelings straight into the arms of a charlatan. To grow, each sister must learn a little bit from the other.
In this way, Austen again challenged the way the world viewed both marriage and a woman’s journey of self-discovery on her path towards finding love.
Jane Austen often compared herself to a miniature painter. In her work every situation, character name, snippet of dialogue, and location—matters. It is in these mundane details that Austen’s revolutionary ideas are expressed; it is here that we find the clues to the world Austen dreamed that women would one day occupy.
Viewed in this manner, Austen’s novels become much more than a parade of clever stories about romance and balls. They become, instead, a series of novels in which a brilliant, snarky woman unmasks the culture in which she lives—in ways that were, and still are, revolutionary.
In the end, Austen manages to write both about the real world—a world filled with greed, injustice, deceit, and hypocrisy—in which women’s roles are suffocatingly and terrifyingly limited—and a world of her own making—in which right prevails, and the smart, sassy, headstrong woman gets everything she could ever dream of, and more.
About Jasmine A. Stirling
Jasmine A. Stirling is the debut author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, a picture book biography of Jane Austen about persistence and creative mastery. Jasmine lives on a cheerful street in San Francisco with her husband, two daughters, and their dog. From a young age, she loved to write poems and stories and worked her way through nearly every children’s book (and quite a few for grownups, too) in her local library. When she’s not writing, Jasmine can be found hiking in the fog, singing songs from old musicals, and fiddling with her camera.
Jasmine first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where she read her favorite of Jane’s six masterful novels, Persuasion. A Most Clever Girl is her dream project, done with her dream team—award-winning illustrator Vesper Stamper and Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Jasmine also has a YA/New Adult history of the women’s suffrage movement out soon, titled We Demand An Equal Voice.
Visit www.jasmineastirling.com to get a free Jane Austen paper doll kit with the purchase of A Most Clever Girl. While you’re there, enter to win a Regency tea party gift basket!