A Gift

“Happy Christmas” from Jane Austen in Vermont!

Our gift today shares short comments from a reader of Austen in 1836. Thanks to R.W. Chapman, we possess the reactions of family and friends that Jane Austen herself collected (printed in his volume of Austen Juvenilia). Here – in the diary of Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall (edited by Mavis E. Smith and newly published) – we see reactions to the novels from a reader with no ties to Austen. Miss Tollet perhaps treasured copies of the first edition, but likely came to read Austen because of the reprintings of the 1830s (for instance, see our 1833 copy of Sense and Sensibility). She does, however, mention “volumes” which indicates the sets – three volumes for all except Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (which appeared together in four volumes) – of the originals printed during Austen’s lifetime.

The first reference Miss Tollet makes of Austen is this entry of Saturday, 2 January 1836:

Cold, bad day – snow on the ground. Set Charles [her brother] to read ‘Mansfield Park’. How I delight in that book! I fancy all the people so well. I confess I think Edmund and Fanny too much alike to marry. I think he is something like W. Egerton [a family friend] though, of course, taller or more like a hero rather. [page 99]

Miss Tollet notes more Austen at the end of February:

Began to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to Mary [her sister-in-law]. A very good book for the purpose, but I don’t like it so well as ‘Mansfield Park’ or ‘Persuasion’. It is a broad farce and the humour less delicate, and the story not so feeling or pretty. [p. 118: Thursday, 25 February 1836]

Days later she expounds on her views, and we perceive something of the reading habits of this young woman (born in 1812):

Read for the tenth time [!] the third volume of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. How excellent it is! Mr Bennet is enchanting, but Lydia’s disgrace far too bad. Great want of taste and delicacy towards her heroines. [p. 120: Tuesday, 8 March 1836]

In this day of television and film adaptations, it is refreshing to read (however short) comments about and reactions to Austen’s characters and situations (see also the post on Miss Russell Mitford). We invite readers to share with us their finds, among nineteenth century letters and diaries, revealing just what Austen’s early crop of readers thought and felt.

Some Book Reviews of Note ~ All Things Austen

[These are some book notes and other Austen-related tidbits that I have picked up over the past few weeks ~ more book thoughts for holiday gift giving to be posted shortly, but this is a start]

samuel-johnson-coverTwo new books about Samuel Johnson are reviewed by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker in his article “Man of Fetters: Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale” ~ Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson [Harvard, 2008] and Jeffery Meyers, Samuel Johnson: The Struggle [Basic, 2008]



Reginald Hill, The Price of Butcher’s Meat [Harper, 2008] … NYTimes Book Review with Marilyn Stazio; Hill does Jane Austen in this story, a la Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon with a story about Sandytown- in Yorkshire, and with all the usual suspects and detectives.


Mrs. Beeton’s The Art of Cookery, noted on Regency Reader; another Mrs. Beeton read is the biography The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, the First Domestic Goddess, by Kathryn Hughes [Knopf, 2006] and now available in paperback.  This study of Beeton also reveals much about the homelife of the Victorians.



“Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: an intimate history of domestic life in Bloomsbury”  by Alison Light  [Bloomsbury Press, 2008].  Review at the NY Times by Claire Messud.

“Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners”(Random House; $30), by Laura Claridge, is the first full-length biography of the author to appear. (Post’s son, Ned, published an affectionate, ghostwritten memoir, “Truly Emily Post,” back in 1961.)  Here is a review in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert.


madame-de-stael-coverMadame de Stael:  the first Modern Womanby Francine de Plessix Gray [Atlas, 2008].  Reviewed at Slate. by Stacey Schiff.





And this Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family Book 1, by C. Allyn Pierson, and published by iuniverse, another sequel to Pride & Prejudice starting where P&P leaves off with Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s engagement and their first year of marriage.  See this article at the Wall Street Journal online.

A found diary of a Victorian woman has recently been published:  Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall by Mavis Smith.  Tollet was an upper class woman who lived in North Staffordshire in the 1800s, and the diary runs from 1835-1890.  Mavis Smith found the 160-year old manuscript hidden in the Shropshire library archives;  click here for more information and how to obtain a copy [Waterstones, Amazon.uk and local museums]

A new book on the cultural history of Reading, England gives a nod to Jane Austen as she went to school there.  See this article in the BBC Berkshire site.

The University of Manchester Library announces the acquisition of the Gaskell – Green letters (link is to Rare Book Review), adding to their already extensive Elizabeth Gaskell collection.  “The Gaskell – Green family (Gaskell’s friend Mary Green and Mary’s daughter Isabella) letters offer fascinating insight into Cheshire town daily life, the place where Gaskell had grown up in the first half of the nineteenth century, and which she later immortalised in her novel Cranford.”

The short story competition sponsored by the Chawton House Library will have Sarah Waters, author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith(faboulous read by the way!), as the chair of the judging panel. “The competition is aimed at raising the profile of the library, which is home to a collection of books by early English women writers. The library is part of Chawton House, home to Jane Austen’s brother Edward.  The shortlisted stories will be published as an anthology, Dancing with Mr Darcy, by independent publishers Honno in October 2009. First prize is £1000 plus a week’s writer’s retreat at Chawton House.”


Chawton House

 [See this article at Bookseller.com as well as the Chawton House Library site for information on the competition.]

 Here are a few blogs of note, lately discovered:

  •  Idolising Jane authored by Old Fogey, asks some telling questions about Austen…see the blogfor some thoughtful posts [and with thanks to Ms. Place at Jane Austen Today]


  • Catherine Delors, historical novelist and author of Mistress of the Revolution, authors a wonderful blog titled Versailles and More, a visual feast of life during the French Revolution and 18th century France.  Today, Ms. Delors offers a post on Saint Nicholas, the True Santa Claus.