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
“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 have Tea on the brain because our JASNA-Vermont group is planning a Regency-style Afternoon Tea at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park on July 24th, 2013 [$25. / person, reservations required]
And so, Tea being on my radar [where it always is really…], I find there are a number of tea caddies up for auction at Sworders, Fine Art Auctioneers.
These are particularly lovely: [Lot 69]
A pair of George III oval papier mâché tea caddies
Birmingham, c.1780, by Henry Clay, the first with a hinged lid decorated with bands of berried leaves and anthemia centred by a hallmarked silver loop handle stamped with the initials ‘HC’, the body with transfer decorated scenes of Demeter in the House of Kelos together with other classical figures, instruments and a painted chevron band, the second similarly decorated, but with palmette borders, 11cm high Provenance: By repute the Earls of Jersey, Osterley Park Middlesex, sold 1949. Literature: For a similar single caddy, ‘The Robert Harman Collection’, Sotheby’s, 12 November 1999, lot 6. The silver loop handle carries the hallmark of Henry Clay, ‘Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’. Clay specialised in Etruscan-style decoration of this kind. A visitor to his workshop in Covent Garden in 1775 reported that he made boxes, tea caddies, panels for coaches and sedan chairs, coffee trays and ‘…all kinds of other vessels, black with orange figures in the style of Etruscan vases’ (‘George Christoph Lichtenberg’s Visits to England as described in his Letters and Diaries’, translated and annotated by M L Mare and W H Quarrell, Oxford, 1938).
Estimate: £5000 – £8000
Or this: [Lot 60]
A George III tea caddy
of rectangular form with canted corners, the lid in harewood (?) with an inlaid oval patera within strung borders, the front panel in mahogany similarly decorated, the canted corners inlaid with plain shaded columns on a stained ground, 11.5cm high.
One of the best places to visit in London if you have any interest in English domestic life is the Geffrye Museum – this has been on my ‘to-visit’ list for several years and I just haven’t made it there on previous trips to London – so when I met up with Tony Grant and he said said his favorite museum is the Geffrye – well, done deal, off we went!
As mentioned above, I did not have my camera, and we got there late, spent too much time chatting over tea, and the place closed down before I could finish the tour on contemporary life and go to the shop – so I cannot offer much more than a link to their fabulous website, where you can take any number of virtual tours through the various rooms, and begin to imagine Jane Austen in her own time and place!
From their website:
The Geffrye Museum depicts the quintessential style of English middle-class living rooms. Its collections of furniture, textiles, paintings and decorative arts are displayed in a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day.
The displays lead the visitor on a walk through time, from the 17th century with oak furniture and panelling, past the refined splendour of the Georgian period and the high style of the Victorians, to 20th century modernity as seen in a 1930s flat, a mid-century room in ‘contemporary style’ and a late-20th century living space in a converted warehouse.
The museum is set in elegant 18th century almshouses with a contemporary wing surrounded by attractive gardens, which include an award-winning walled herb garden and a series of period gardens.
A parlour in 1790 – photography John Hammond
The use of the parlour remained much the same as earlier in the century; it was the room where the family would have gathered, received guests and taken meals. However, the way it was decorated and furnished had changed considerably.
In diaries, journals and letters of the time people often referred to rooms and furnishings that they liked as ‘neat’, which meant bright and stylish as well as clean and tidy. This taste required lighter colours and more delicate decoration. Wallpapered walls were particularly useful for achieving this effect, replacing heavily moulded panelling.
In the museum’s room the wallpaper is a modern replica copied from a fragment dating to around 1780. The plaster frieze is copied from a house in Cross Street, Islington. Interest in classical design and decoration was increasingly widespread towards the end of the century.
When you first walk in, you are faced with a series of chairs depicting each era – a wondeful way to see the changes in that most essential piece of furniture – the lofty chair. And then you begin your tour through the period rooms, starting with a Hall of 1630. Each room is arranged to look as though someone just got up and left – letters half written, chairs a bit askew, cards spread out. Tony is a teacher and he said he loves bringing young people to this very hands-on museum – he would focus on a particular item or habit – for example, light – and have his students really think about how our use of and access to different kinds of light has changed through the years. It is a marvelous way of really putting yourself in each room and seeing how one would have to function in that context.
A drawing room in 1830 – photography Chris Ridley
The Almshouse was not open when I visited, so here again from their website:
An almshouse room in 1880 – photography Morley von Sternberg
The 1880s room, situated on the upper floor, shows how a former governess living in the Geffrye almshouses during the 1880s may have furnished it.
The interior exemplifies the principle of genteel poverty. Within this context, the objects on display reflect many of the principal themes related to daily life during the nineteenth century, such as scientific and technological developments, moral and social trends, travel, and educational and artistic accomplishments.
The Museum also houses elegant gardens from the 17th to 20th centuries; here is one from the 18th c – you can visit the website for lists of key plants:
18th century period garden – photography Jayne Lloyd
A lovely visit, despite my lack of camera! – and again my hearty thanks to Tony Grant for taking me there!
All the images posted here are from the website, where you can visit all the rooms, take virtual tours, shop*, and discover this magical world of the English home.
*the shop has many books, such as The History of the Geffrye Almshouses, by Kathy Haslam.
You can also visit them on Facebook here, where you can like them!
Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont
What does one do with the books we want but cannot now justify the expense or even afford at all? I maintain an endless list of such books I discover in my reading or book-hunting travels. I periodically search to see if I can find a copy that doesn’t break the bank. Here is one book I have had on my wish-list for ages, but it is impossible to find for much less than $200. But is is oh! so lovely! and I want it – I see it today in the Joslin Hall Rare Books catalogue and other than drooling all over my keyboard for a bit, I shall have to pass on the $300. price tag, yet again:
Agius, Paul[ine]. “Ackermann’s Regency Furniture & Interiors” Marlborough; The Crowwood Press: 1984. Published between 1809 and 1828, Ackermann’s ‘Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics’ provides an unparalleled window into the high-class world of Regency England. Gathered here are several hundred illustrations of furniture and interiors as first published by Ackermann. A Regency-style tour de force. Hardcover. 10″x11″, 200 pages, color and b/w illustrations, dj. Minor wear. $300.00