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!
In Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister, a brilliant effort to give the neglected-by-everyone Mary Bennet a life of her own, Mary’s reading is one of the most important aspects of the book – we see her at first believing, because she knows she is different than her other four far prettier and more appealing sisters, that her prospects for the expected life of a well-married woman are very limited, and that she must learn to squash her passions and live a rational life. She also mistakenly thinks that by becoming a reader of philosophical, religious, and conduct texts that she will finally gain approval and maybe even love from her distant, book-obsessed father.
So Mary embarks on a course of serious rational study – and one of the most insightful things in the book is that she learns, after much pain, that this is no way to lead a life, to find happiness, to find herself. She rejects the novels like the ones Mrs. Bennet finds at the local circulating library as being frivolous, largely because James Fordyce tells her so…
So, I have made a list of all the titles that Hadlow has Mary reading or referring to – all real books of the time, and many mentioned and known by Jane Austen. Hadlow is very specific in what books she puts in Mary’s hands! And shows her own knowledge of the reading and the reading practices of Austen’s time. [If anyone detects anything missing from this list, please let me know…]
I am giving the original dates of publication of each title; most all the titles in one edition or another are available on Google Books, HathiTrust, Internet Archive, or the like – I provide a few of those links, if you are so inclined to become such a rational reader as Mary….
Anonymous. The History of Little Goody Two Shoes (show JA’s copy). London: John Newbury, 1765. Attributed to various authors, including Oliver Goldsmith. We know that Jane Austen has her own copy of this book, here with her name on it as solid proof.
Rev. Wetenhall Wilkes. A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice to a Young Lady: Being a System of Rules and Informations: Digested Into a New and Familiar Method, to Qualify the Fair Sex to be Useful, and Happy in Every Scene of Life. London, 1746. Another conduct book.
Catharine Macaulay. The History of England. 8 vols. London, 1763-83. A political history of the seventeenth century, covering the years 1603-1689. This was very popular and is in no way related to the later History published by Thomas Babington Macaulay. You can read more about this influential female historian in this essay by Devoney Looser: Catharine Macaulay: The ‘Female Historian’ in Context
Rev. James Fordyce. Sermons to Young Women. London, 1766. A conduct manual.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins chooses to read Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women aloud to the Bennet sisters, Lydia especially unimpressed: “Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him …’.
Frances Burney. Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. London, 1778. Hadlow gives Evelina a good hearing – in the discussion in Mr. Bennet’s library with Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth directly quotes Austen’s own words in defense of the novel that are found in Northanger Abbey. [Evelina, and Mary’s difficulty in coming to terms with such a frivolous story, is mentioned more than once].
Evelina. U Michigan Library
Other Novels mentioned are:
– Samuel Richardson. The History of Sir Charles Grandison. London, 1753. 7 vols. Reported to be Austen’s favorite book, all seven volumes!
– Henry Fielding. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. 4 vols. London, 1749. Supposedly the reason Richardson wrote his Grandison. [Mentioned more than once] – I think we should read this book next for our JABC!
– Laurence Sterne. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. 9 vols. London, 1759-1767.
Hugh Blair – wikipedia
Hugh Blair. Sermons. Vol. 1 of 5 published in 1777.
“You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”
William Paley. A View of the Evidences of Christianity. London, 1794.
Aristotle. The Ethics of Aristotle. [no way to know the exact edition that Mr. Collins gives to Mary – it’s been around for a long time!]
Mentions: all Enlightenment thinkers and heavy reading for Mary!
– John Locke
– William Paley (again)
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
– David Hume
A Dictionary of the Greek Language – Mr. Collins gives a copy to Mary.
Edward Young. Night Thoughts. 1743. wikipedia
Edward Young. The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality. [Known as Night-Thoughts]. London, 1742-45. [No wonder Mr. Hayward suggested a lighter type of poetry!]
William Wordsworth, portrait by Henry Edridge, 1804; in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, England. Britannica.com
William Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads. London, 1798. Full title: Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems is a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge [Mr. Hayward does not mention Coleridge at all!], first published in 1798 and considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature. Most of the poems in the 1798 edition were written by Wordsworth; Coleridge has only four poems included, one being his most famous work, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
William Godwin. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness. London, 1793. [Godwin, it is worth noting, married Mary Wollstonecraft and was the father of Mary Godwin Shelley]. Outlines Godwin’s radical political philosophy.
William Godwin (portrait by James Northcote) and Mary Wollstonecraft (portrait by John Opie) – from BrainPickings.org
Machiavelli – is referred to by Mary, so assume she is familiar with his The Prince (1513).
Image: Guide to the Lakes. ‘View on Winandermere’ [now called Windermere], by Joseph Wilkerson. Romantic Circles
William Wordsworth. Guide to the Lakes. [full title: A Guide through the District of the Lakes] – first published in 1810 as an anonymous introduction to a book of engravings of the Lake District by the Reverend Joseph Wilkinson. A 5th and final edition was published in 1835 – you can read that online at Romantic Circles here, along with a full account of its rather tormented publication history: https://romantic-circles.org/editions/guide_lakes
John Milton. Paradise Lost. A mention by Mr. Ryder who is defeated by its length, so we know Mary was familiar with it.
The Edinburgh Review / The Quarterly Review – brought to Mary by Mr. Ryder, and for which Mr. Hayward perhaps wrote his reviews. The Edinburgh Review (1802-1929); Quarterly Review (1809-1967, and published by Jane Austen’s publisher John Murray) – both were very popular and influential publications of their time…
The Other Bennet Sister is an enjoyable read – it is delightful to see Mary Bennet come into her own, that despite what she viewed as an unhappy childhood, she finds her way through a good number of books in a quest to live a rational, passionless existence. And that the development of some well-deserved self-esteem with the help of various friends and family, might actually lead her to a worthy equal partner in life, just maybe not with Mrs. Bennet’s required £10,000 !
Gentle Readers: The post last week on Hazel Jones’ book The Other Knight Boys brought up the issue of cricket (in a comment from Lisa Brown) – did Austen’s nephews play it? And from there, we all got cricket-happy. Thankfully Tony Grant, a cricket player in his own right, offered to tell us a little about the game that most Americans haven’t a clue about – along with his own reminiscences of a particular game he played in the Summer of 1973. (sounds like a movie)… so a hearty welcome to Tony, with thanks!
When I was seven years old my father bought me a cricket bat. He also bought this book for me, Approach to the Game: CRICKET_HOW TO PLAY, published for the M.C.C [Marylebone Cricket Club] 1955. It had some clear illustrations in it so I could analyse how to play certain skills.
I can remember my father teaching me how to hold a bat, how to form a balanced stance at the crease, how to hold my head level with my eyes looking straight ahead and how to make a forward defensive stroke. Using a tennis ball pitched up to me I soon learned how to watch a ball and time a stroke perfectly while remaining in a balanced pose keeping my head over the bat and ball to keep the ball down on the ground, eventually learning to follow through with a straight bat and so performing a forward drive. I was so enthused I used to practice all these different elements of batting again and again, sometimes with a bat and sometimes just with a stick. I practiced batting strokes until they became automatic.
Cricket is a hard task master: it demands common-sense, imagination, concentration and character,……
but there is something that matters even more than making runs or taking wickets or being a good fielder.
A cricketer should never forget that they are playing with, as well as against the other team and that they are either their host or their guest.
They should strive for all that it is worth to win or, if they cannot win to avert defeat: but there is a price beyond which victory or the avoidance of defeat should never be bought.
For in cricket, however hard it is played- and if it is worth playing at all, it is worth playing hard- the struggle and its result should never obscure the true ends for which it is played, recreation, good fellowship, the training of character. And above all the conviction which the game that can bring with it, that through it and what it gives, life is indeed the more worth living.
Chairman MCC Youth Cricket Association
Cricketers warming up
I sometimes wonder why sport is so important. Why are humans so addicted to it? Why is it so enthralling and exciting to see runs made and your team win and why it can be so heart-breaking when you lose? It is all the things mentioned in the above statement but I think it is more than that. It is art and history, philosophy and psychology, courage, self-analysis, creativity and it makes us plan and adapt. It is emotional, bringing joy and pain. We have to plan, predict and adapt. A sport is not meaningless, it enables us to practice every human trait and it brings good company and friendship.
A cricket team posing at SMC
History of the Game:
A game similar to cricket is recorded as long ago as the 12th century. However, cricket closer to the game we know today was founded at Hambledon Cricket Club in Hampshire in 1750 when many of the laws for cricket were first developed. In 1787 the Marylebone Cricket Club in St Johns Wood near Regents Park in London, was set up. An ad hoc formation of clubs had been happening all over the country independent of each before Hambledon Cricket Club was formed and before the MCC created a unified code for the game. Marylebone Cricket Club is now regarded as the home of English Cricket and cricket worldwide. The ground is called Lords Cricket Ground, named after Thomas Lord who purchased the site and started the Marylebone club. It is commonly called the M.C.C.
Chawton Cricket Club pavilion
Jane Austen and cricket:
In the first chapter of Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen introduces the reader to Catherine Moreland.
She was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird or watering a rose bush.
Andrew Davies in the recent televised series Sanditon has Charlotte Heywood batting in a cricket match on Sanditon beach and making the winning runs. [fabulous scene!]
Sanditon (2019) – Charlotte and Sidney Parker
We can imagine that Jane Austen with, six brothers, joined enthusiastically too in the “boys’ plays.” Perhaps Jane played cricket?
The Jane Austen Society (UK) has very kindly made their reports free for everybody to gain access to. In the Collected Reports, 2001 – 2005 an article by Margaret Wilson is entitled “The Austens, the Knights and Cricket in Kent.” [link]
George Knight cricketer
The Austen family in Kent were players, spectators and administrators of the game. Jane’s brother Francis had a grandson who played in the Charterhouse School cricket team. Thomas Austen gave ten shillings to help finance the purchase of The Vine Ground in Seven Oaks for the playing of cricket. Fanny Knight, Jane’s favourite niece, wrote about her brothers as being “rather mad about cricket.” Edward Austen Knight’s eldest son, also called Edward, played for Kent in 1822 and for Hampshire between 1827 and 1828. The nephews Edward and George played for Chawton Village in May 1820, although Chawton Village Cricket Club itself was not established until 1883.
George Knight especially made his mark on the game of cricket. Jane called him “itty Dordy.” He played for Kent and Hampshire but he helped develop the game of cricket by being a proponent of round arm bowling during the 1820s. This was a revolution in cricket at the time. A smooth under arm bowling action had always been the rule. Over or round arm bowling added extra speed and variety to the bowling technique. Batters had to become more proficient and develop skills to counter this development. Round arm bowling therefore made a big leap in cricket’s development and George was an instigator in how we play the game today. George also wrote about cricket in letters to The Sporting Magazine in 1827. Jane’s nephew, Brook John Knight, played for Kent in1844. Her great nephew Wyndham, the son of the younger Edward Knight, played for a Kent XI in 1862. Apparently he was a good fielder. Fanny Knights husband Sir Edward Knatchbull also had many cricketers in his family.
Bowling delivery, over arm
WISDEN is the cricketer’s almanac that has been published since 1864. This year it is 156 years old and there have been 155 editions. The cricket season is not over for this year.
Each edition of Wisden comprises 1300 pages of small tightly packed print. It includes everything anybody would want to know about cricket. Each WISDEN particularly focuses on the previous seasons matches. There are articles about players and clubs in the past; there are biographies of famous players past and present. Reports give detailed accounts about today’s cricketing stars and their performances over their career. There are extensive reports about every test match England has played in the previous season along with all the statistics of runs, wickets taken and the performances of each player who played in the match. Chapters cover each of the County teams, such as Hampshire, Surrey, Worcestershire, Somerset, Nottinghamshire and so forth, providing detailed reports of every match the county teams played and their statistics, runs, wickets, and overs for each match. WISDEN is very entertaining to read providing vivid and descriptive reports and biographies. The writing is amongst the best in sports journalism.
Here are two pages to provide you with a flavour of this annual almanac.A report on the Hampshire v Nottinghamshire match, played between May 31 and the 2nd and 3rd of June 1986 with a report and the statistics. Also I have included the opening part of a biographical piece on the great England and Surrey player Jim Laker. I met Jim Laker once when he came to visit Thames Ditton Cricket Club on Giggs Hill green near Surbiton. It was the Thames Ditton Cricket clubs 100th anniversary and he was invited to our celebrations. He readily helped me do some coaching with the colts before the senior game commenced. I was not only a player at the club at the time but the youth team coach and manager. He offered to umpire in the main match of the day. He was a lovely warm character and we were all in awe of him. In 1956 Jim Laker not only took 10 Australian wickets when Australia played Surrey at the Oval he also decimated the Australians at Old Trafford Test match bowing 19 wickets in the two innings. He has been regarded as the best England bowler ever. He was a right arm off break bowler.
A Game of Cricket, Summer of 1973
The Summer of 1973, I was 20 years old and I was working for Southampton Magistrates Courts at the Civic Centre as a clerical assistant. The city council employees organised various social clubs including a cricket team. I was a member of the cricket team.
It was just before my 21st birthday, Midsummers Day had passed and we were enjoying a heatwave in Southern England. The cricket team had their next fixture away, on Saturday 23rd June against the Longparish second eleven. Longparish is a beautiful Hampshire village west of Basingstoke, not far from the villages of Steventon, Deane and Ash, where Jane Austen lived. The cricket club at Longparish was founded in 1878. On the team list I was down to bat at number four and I was also to bowl third after the two opening fast bowlers needed to rest.
We fielded first and Chris Long, our captain asked me to field at first slip close in on the batsman facing the bowling. The sun shone down out of a blue sky and I could feel the heat on my back. Luckily the sun was behind the slips so it wasn’t in our eyes. I crouched low, just behind the line of view of the opening batsman. I held my hands cupped stretched out in front of me, my eyes focussed intently on the blade of his bat. Slip fielding needs an intense concentration. Your reactions have to be lightning fast. You have only a split second to react. John Heath our opening bowler ran in on a long curving approach line up to the wicket and sent down a fast lightening ball that I heard thud into the ground in front of the batsman sending up a puff of dust followed by a sharp crack as the batsman met the ball on the rise in the middle of his bat with a forward defensive stroke. For the next six balls the batsman played the same stroke to the same line of bowling. Each time the two other slips and I relieved these moments of intense concentration by standing straight, loosening our arms and legs by stretching and bouncing loosely on the spot. The batsman was trying to tire out John with his furious over arm action sending down bullet fast balls. The batsman was beginning to look confident already. John would need to change his tactics. He decided to bowl round the wicket instead of over the wicket. This enabled him to send in his fast bowls at a different angle. The batsman looked nervous. He moved his feet to get his left foot near the pitch of the ball as it once more zipped into the dusty ground in front of him. He had timed his stroke nearly perfectly but not quite. I heard the sharp snap of an edge. I reacted leaping to my right. The ball was coming very fast. I got my right hand to it in an instinctive reflex reaction. My hand got to the ball but I couldn’t hold it. I parried it to the ground. The batsman thought he had beaten me and the other slips. But my fielding colleague next to me picked up the blocked ball and in one clean under arm action whipped the bails off and with a roar we all leapt into the air. The batsman out of his crease was stumped and he made his lonely walk back to the pavilion with a duck to his name. What a start we had. The palm of my hand smarted and throbbed but I was elated. I had stopped a rocket of a ball. The batsman had really put his shoulders and arms into his stroke.
Basic bowling grip
Later on in the first innings I was called on to bowl. I am a medium paced bowler because of my height. I have, however, managed to develop some tricks to fool and confuse any batsman. To warm up in my first over I kept the ball steady, even paced and straight. I placed the ball each time on the same spot, just forward of the batsman’s off side so he had to step out to the ball and strike it on the off. I arranged the fielders so that they could block any balls coming in that direction. The first few balls the batsman managed to drive to the off but they carried straight to the fielders who quickly gathered the ball each time and threw it accurately and straight to the wicket keeper. The batsman managed two runs in my first over. By now my arms and shoulders had loosened up. I thought I would try and fool the batsman with some pace. My run up and action looked the same as before but this time I opened my shoulders wider, and brought my right arm over from behind me, hidden at first from the batsman’s view. This time I had relaxed my bowling wrist at a cocked angle. As I brought my arm over I flicked my wrist into action at the point of delivery giving the ball a much faster pace and I thumped it down slightly more in front of the batsman in line with the wickets. He had to adjust his stance to counteract the more full on ball coming at a faster pace. He struggled to parry it down with a backward defensive stroke. That brought a smile to my face. The next ball I changed tactics again. I vigorously polished one side of the ball on the leg of my cricket whites, as I walked back to the start of my run up. This caused a red stain on my trousers. Polishing one side of a red leather cricket ball until it shines and holding the ball slightly off centre of the seam creates a swing effect. The air moves faster over the polished surface making that side move faster in the air. With the polished side on the off side I manged to create an in-swinging ball and with the extra flick of my wrist I sent it down at a pace, the ball moving into the batsman’s body. He edged it fast towards short leg on his leg side flailing hands and some acrobatics from the fielder positioned there but the ball rushed on to the boundary for four. A gasp went up because he had so nearly been caught. I had got him worried. I kept up a barrage of accurately placed balls hitting the same spot on the wicket causing the earth to become rough and pitted. He didn’t score anymore in that over. When the bowling changed ends the batsmen conversed in the middle of the wicket together. In my next over I was facing the other batsman. I was feeling good and decided to shake him up a little. I zipped in a ball angled from over the wicket and he edged it to the slips one of whom parried it to the ground but didn’t catch it. I tried another ball over the wicket, zipping it apparently straight at his legs but this time making the ball outswing. The ball took him off guard. It arrowed through his defence between bat and pad and carried to the wicket keepers gloves who with a sudden flurry took off the bails and yelled ”Howzat!!” The umpire unmoved for a moment looked, thought and then raised his finger. We all cheered and ran to the middle of the wicket to congratulate each other. Another wicket taken. The batsman had come out of his crease to attempt a stroke at my delivery and didn’t have time to retreat. The game was going our way.
Later I went into bat at number four during our innings. We had fifty runs on the board. They had scored 234 runs, so we had some ground to make up.
East Molesey Cricket Club, founded in 1735
I stood in front of the wicket and made a mark on the ground with the end of my bat showing me the centre of the crease. This was so I could adjust my stance depending on the angle the bowler was bowling in from. I had watched him for a few overs previously and had a good idea of his pace and how he angled in the balls and where he was likely to pitch the ball. I had it in mind to parry the first few balls with forward defensive strokes until I got my eye in. I noticed some people moving near the boundary and asked the umpire to move them out of the way. I also asked for the sight screen to be moved more to the left in line with where I knew the bowler would approach on his run in. I could see the bowler’s action better highlighted against the white screen. I tried to be as relaxed as possible standing, my feet parallel to each other and slightly apart, side on to the bowler in a slightly crouching pose with my head up. My eyes looked forward, steadily at the bowler. I held the bat angled directly behind me, my left hand gripping the top part of the handle, my left arm and elbow pointing forward ready to make the stroke, my right hand gripping the lower part of the bat handle ready to guide the bat. Everything was in line. Timing is all. As the bowler ran in I concentrated on his arm. As he rose up into his action at the opposite crease my right arm lifted the bat up directly behind me, my face and body leaning into a forward pose ready for action. My eyes fixed on his bowling action and within a split second of the ball leaving the bowlers hand I moved my feet swiftly forward, my left foot placed down next to the pitch of the ball as it bit into the ground surface in front of me, my body straining forward , my head and eyes over the top of the pitching ball to keep the resultant contact on the ball down, my arms following through swinging the bat in a straight fluid smooth arc my head and body in balance, my arms following through. The sound of a sharp crack, ball on bat, and the ball was speeding across the grassy surface towards the fielder at mid-off. All this happened at once. It’s all about position, timing and a skillful execution of the batting stroke.
I was very pleased to be able to execute my favourite swash-buckling stroke, a square cut off the back foot. The bowler I was facing was getting tired and he was beginning to make mistakes. One delivery came down pitched short on my off side and rose up high. I took a step back with my bat parallel with my shoulders, my eyes firmly on the rising ball and swiftly swung the bat in a graceful arc around my body from right to left hitting the ball at the top of its bounce and smashed it through the covers speeding along the ground for four runs. Balls like that are a gift. However, some technique is required. If you top edge it you will be caught out and if you try and send it for a six, if you have not the strength and power it will not reach the boundary before landing and you could again be caught. The skill is to roll your wrists. As you swing the bat into the line of the ball, roll both wrists over the top of the handle as you contact the ball. This will have the effect of playing the ball down at an angle so it will quickly reach the ground and travel at speed along the surface. If it is fielded by one of the opposing players there is no problem, the ball is on the ground. Performed properly it should speed to the boundary for four. During the game I scored a presentable twenty-seven runs before being caught attempting to hit a six to the boundary. I got lazy.
In the club house at Longparish, I remember we had a lovely tea with a selection of sandwiches, brown wholemeal bread with ham, cheese and egg fillings, made by members of the Longparish Cricket Club. Mugs of hot tea were drunk. The bar was opened so some of our team had a pint. The proverbial icing on the cake was that we won the game but only by 15 runs. A close fought match but extremely enjoyable.
Setting a field in cricket
N. S. Creek. Teach Yourself Cricket. English Universities Press, 1964.
Play The Game Series. Cricket:How To Play. Published for the MCC Educational Productions, 1955.
Margaret Wilson. “The Austens, The Knights and Cricket in Kent.” Jane Austen Society Collected Reports 2001-2005. 139-41.
Michael Davis. “Jane Austen and Cricket.” Jane Austen Society Collected Reports 1996-2000. 307-311.
You Are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea!
December approaches and our thoughts turn to…Jane Austen’s Birthday and Tea!
This is just a reminder that the annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea is coming up on December 8 at the Essex Resort and Spa. There will be Food! Dancing! Jane Austen’s Proposals!
Here are the details:
December 8, 2019
The Essex Resort and Spa
70 Essex Way, Essex Junction, VT
$35 for Members / $40 for Non-members / $15 for Students (w/ID)
The afternoon will include:
Full English Tea with finger sandwiches, assortment of sweets, scones, and, of course, tea,
English Country Dancing for all who would like to, no experience necessary, taught and led by the illustrious Val Medve,
A talk by Deb Barnum and Hope Greenberg on “Proposals in Jane Austen: ‘What did she say?… Just what she ought'” – enlivened with a visual journey through these scenes as played out in the various Austen film adaptations,
and, good company—no, the “best company” with “clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.”
Regency dress is encouraged but not required!
Please click here for the reservation form: Dec Tea 2019-Reservation form-final and send it with your payment to the address noted on the form. Registration closes on November 23.
A must-read review! A must-read book! Professor Moore spoke at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, an insightful, eye-opening talk on Jane Austen’s knowledge of the dissolution of the monasteries and how she weaves this into her novels:
Dear Healthy Readers: I welcome today Bryan Kozlowski, author of The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness– he joins us here to answer a few questions about his book, why he wrote it, how long he’s been a reader of Jane Austen, and when he discovered she had all these things to say about nutrition and health. Joceline Bury, the book reviewer for Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine calls it “a delectable salmagundy or culinary history, illuminating quotes, dietary science and intriguing recipes – it made this gourmand’s heart sing. Delicious in every way.”
When did you first start to realize that Austen’s work contained these words of wisdom about wellness?
Very unexpectedly. Looking back, Jane and I had always been in a very superficial relationship. Begging her polite pardon, I never viewed her beyond anything other than a pure romance writer, always good for a giggle over the newest rich gent in the neighborhood, but not exactly influential to everyday life. If anything, Austen was just a bosom buddy I turned to for distraction from modern life, never realizing she held one of its biggest solutions. Yet that all changed rather quickly two years ago. Nearing my 30th birthday and in the midst of a personal wellness quandary (wondering, among other things, whatever happened to the energy levels of my roaring twenties), I delved into the latest health books for answers. That’s when it happened. Reading the “newest” research on eating, exercise, and holistic living felt very familiar, like literary déjà vu. Hadn’t I come across these exact insights before in Austen’s novels? Hadn’t she said the same thing, espoused nearly identical lifestyle advice, over two-hundred years ago? It all looked amazingly similar to the way her healthiest characters eat, stay fit, and interact with nature. The discovery led me to health maxims in Austen’s writings I never knew existed, which revealed a side to this famous English spinster rarely, if ever, discussed. Here was a woman just as interested in persuading her readers to live a healthier life as she was inspiring them to fall in love. Plainly, Austen wanted to take my relationship with her to the next level. So I took the plunge, deciding to test out her unique health strategies for myself (rather secretly, at first – one doesn’t announce to the world that one is going on the Jane Austen “diet,” does one?) It was a personal guinea-pig project that – shockingly – was not only suitable to the 21st century, the elegance of embracing “health and happiness” like a true Austenite is one that I now heartily announce to anyone in sore need of adding back some civility and sense to their own modern health routine.
You’re not a health professional. Do you intend for people to actually follow this plan? Is it a serious contribution to the wellness space?
Quite right. It’s something I discuss upfront in the book: that neither am I nor was Austen a doctor (or apothecary, rather!). Austen was, however, one of the most brilliant observers of human nature, and devoted her literary life to finding out what makes people happier and healthier both in mind and body. For this reason, Austen is often considered one of the best “didactic” novelists, meaning she made it her mission to inspire us – no matter the century – to live a better life. And just like she didn’t need to get married herself to understand the nuances of love, she didn’t need a medical degree to accurately grasp what our bodies need to thrive – the evidence is all in her novels. In fact, the health advice scattered throughout her writing continues to be so timeless today because it was based on organic observation, not on shifting fashions or fads. She knew what naturally worked for our bodies and what didn’t, which is why her wellness philosophies find such resounding support from the latest health research. Moreover, it’s important to remember that Austen lived in an age that faced health challenges nearly identical to the ones we grapple with today. The Regency era had its own mini obesity epidemic, movement crises, and trendy starvation diets to contend with. Yet in her own clever way, Austen chose to respond (never bluntly) but with subtle, counterculture clues woven throughout her fiction: clues meant to gently motivate us to better alternatives. And I, for one, am so grateful she did.
What is the best piece of advice gleaned from Austen included in your book?
Austen would probably get a merry kick out of my attempt to answer this, as her health code purposefully defies any attempt at tidy condensing. But if possible to boil down, you could say that it’s built on one refreshing reminder – that “health” is far more holistic than most of us have been conditioned to view it today (that is, as an isolated number on a scale, BMI chart, food plan, fitness strategy, or dress size). As a matter of fact, weight hardly mattered to Jane at all, who progressively considered excessive thinness, not fatness, as a much more serious risk to health. There are corpulent characters in her novels, of course, who could certainly loose a few pounds, but Austen chose to widen the lens and focus instead on what she calls the “complete” “picture of health” throughout her fiction. In short, Austen’s healthiest characters never have just one defining attribute that makes them “lovely, blooming, [and] healthful” but a sweeping range of interconnected lifestyle habits and patterns that keep them effortlessly “in health” from tip to toe: from their relationship to food and exercise, to their interactions with nature, to how they think and feel about their bodies. Your corset size mattered far less to Jane than how you laced up the rest of your life.
Which of Austen’s heroines lives the healthiest life, and why?
What I love about Austen’s approach to wellness is its firm footing in reality – that is, none of her heroines start their stories as perfect paradigms of health. Everybody has something to learn. Anne Elliot begins Persuasion “faded” and frumpy and Marianne Dashwood certainly has some hard health lessons ahead of her in Sense and Sensibility. But if any heroine could be said to have a head start on the rest, I believe it would be Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. If nothing more than the fact that she begins the novel completely comfortable in her own skin. So much so, she instantly laughs off Mr. Darcy’s infamous body-shaming snark (“he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form”). And that alone was incredibly important to Austen, an early promoter of body positivity. Because becoming healthy in Austenworld truly begins in your mind, where the quality of your relationship to food, fitness, and even your reflection in the mirror will greatly depend on how you think about those things. Still incredibly important today, these are the mental “exercises” that set apart the body healthy from the body harmful in Austen’s novels. As Fanny Price insists in Mansfield Park, “that would be exercise only to my body, and I must take care of my mind.”
What is the most surprising/useful habit that those living in Austen’s era abided by for health?
The most surprising aspect of Austen’s wellness program is her insistence that a healthy diet includes far more than just food – that it relies on a daily dose of nature, too. Things like fresh air, sunlight, trees, good clean dirt and sea breezes are practically treated like vitamins in her fiction, routinely prescribed to any character in need of a body reboot. And though I used to (shamefully) think Austen had gone a wee bit too far with her love for nature – note Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice, at one point, prefers “rocks and mountains” to actual men – thanks to new and growing support from modern science, it is now an essential part of my own wellness walk with Jane, and one I cannot live without.
About the author:
Bryan Kozlowski is a passionate champion of “lit wit” – bringing the wisdom of classic literature into everyday life. From Jane Austen to Charles Dickens to children’s cookbooks, his books celebrate the modern magic of living literarily. His works have appeared in Vogue, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He graduated valedictorian from The Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he fell in love with British food history, and interned at Saveur food magazine before setting off on the writing path.
About the book:
Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness