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.]
“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?
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.
Join us today for a guest post by Sue Wilkes, as she shares one of her spy tales from her new book Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels & Revolutionaries(more information on the book below).
The Cato Street Conspiracy, 1820
The year 1820 began with grave news – the death of George III on 29 January, after years of illness. The King was buried a week later with great pomp and ceremony on 16 February. But his son George IV’s reign did not get off to a good start. A week later, news broke to an astounded British public of the arrest of ‘a gang of diabolical ruffians’ at Cato Street, in London. The conspirators, led by the ‘notorious’ Arthur Thistlewood, planned to kill members of the Cabinet (government ministers) while they dined at Earl Harrowby’s house in Mansfield Street (Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1820).
This was no chance discovery, however. Thistlewood and his gang were well known to the authorities – the government’s spies had kept them under surveillance for years. Arthur Thistlewood, a brooding, dangerous man known to be deadly with a sword, led a group of revolutionaries called the ‘Spencean Philanthropists’.
The Spenceans were followers of the late Thomas Spence, who advocated the common ownership of all land – a truly anarchic idea in an unequal society rooted in land, wealth and property. Thistlewood first came to prominence in the Spa Fields riot of December 1816 in London. The riot was thought to be a ‘trial run’ by the Spenceans to see if they could get enough popular support to attack the Tower of London, Bank of England, and seize the city. Thistlewood and his friends were arrested and tried for treason the following year, but acquitted as most of the evidence against them was based on unreliable spy evidence.
After his release from prison, Thistlewood and his followers were constantly watched. In 1817 a spy called Shegoe reported, ‘They entertain the plan of assassination, and Lords Castlereagh, Sidmouth, Liverpool and Ellenborough have been marked as objects of their pursuit’. Some conspirators guessed that Shegoe was a spy, however, and his usefulness declined.
A new spy, George Edwards (code-name ‘W—r’ in the surveillance reports) infiltrated the gang and actively encouraged their plans. Edwards also recruited more conspirators: one of the people he ‘groomed’ was John Thomas Brunt, a shoe-maker. Another was Richard Tidd, who came from Thistlewood’s native Lincolnshire, and met Edwards through Brunt. Edwards’ actions and words were so ludicrously violent that several men he approached sent him packing, convinced that he was trying to entrap them.
Early in 1820, Edwards brought Thistlewood the news he had been waiting for: a Cabinet dinner was planned at Lord Harrowby’s house. Thistlewood and his gang rented a loft in Cato Street. They arranged to meet on Tuesday 22 February, bringing as many weapons as they could lay their hands on. But thanks to Edwards, the time and place for the planned assassination were already known to the police and Home Office. Everything was now set to nip the conspiracy in the bud.
On Monday 1 May 1820, Arthur Thistlewood, James Ings, John Thomas Brunt, Richard Tidd and William Davidson were executed guilty for high treason at Newgate. But was it really Thistlewood’s idea to kill the Cabinet – or was it the spy George Edwards’s plan, as Arthur claimed at his trial?
An account of the death sentence passed by the judge, and the conspirators’ execution,
from the Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1820. (Author’s collection).
About the book: [from the jacket]
In her new book, Sue Wilkes reveals the shadowy world of Britain’s spies, rebels and secret societies from the late 1780s until 1820. Drawing on contemporary literature and official records, Wilkes unmasks the real conspirators and tells the tragic stories of the unwitting victims sent to the gallows.
In this ‘age of Revolutions’, when the French fought for liberty, Britain’s upper classes feared revolution was imminent. Thomas Paine’s incendiary Rights of Man called men to overthrow governments which did not safeguard their rights. Were Jacobins and Radical reformers in England and Scotland secretly plotting rebellion? Ireland, too, was a seething cauldron of unrest, its impoverished people oppressed by their Protestant masters.
Britain’s governing elite could not rely on the armed services – even Royal Navy crews mutinied over brutal conditions. To keep the nation safe, a ‘war chest’ of secret service money funded a network of spies to uncover potential rebels amongst the underprivileged masses. It had some famous successes: dashing Colonel Despard, friend of Lord Nelson, was executed for treason. Sometimes in the deadly game of cat-and-mouse between spies and their prey suspicion fell on the wrong men, like poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Even peaceful reformers risked arrest for sedition. Political meetings like Manchester’s ‘Peterloo’ were ruthlessly suppressed, and innocent blood spilt. Repression bred resentment – and a diabolical plot was born. The stakes were incredibly high: rebels suffered the horrors of a traitor’s death when found guilty. Some conspirators’ secrets died with them on the scaffold…
About the author:
Sue Wilkes is the author of several works of social and family history: Regency Spies (Pen & Sword, 2016) and A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England (Pen & Sword, 2014), Regency Cheshire (Robert Hale, 2011), The Children History Forgot (Robert Hale, 2010), Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives (Tempus, 2007), as well as guides for family historians on tracing ancestors in various UK counties and towns.
Thank you Sue for telling us about one your tales! This book is filled with such – I will be interviewing Sue in the coming weeks, so please return to learn more about this world of spies in Jane Austen’s time … my first question? Whatever would our dear Henry Tilney have to say about it all?!
Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” [NA, Vol. II, Ch ix. Image: Mollands.net]
All four images from George Theodore Wilkinson, The Newgate Calendar Improved Vol. 5, (Thomas Kelly, 1836). Courtesy the Internet Archive, archive.org.
Syrie James’s new work, Jane Austen’s First Love, tells the tale of one Edward Taylor as a possible first love, pre-Tom Lefroy, for Jane Austen. It is fiction, but there is too much truth in the story, based largely on the few comments Austen made in letters to her sister Cassandra and James’ in-depth research into Taylor’s life, to have us shelve this book as merely a pretty fiction.
Syrie also wrote in more detail about Edward Taylor here: http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2014/12/edward-taylor-of-bifrons-jane-austens.html – Ron Dunning, of Jane Austen genealogy fame, on reading about Syrie’s book, did some research into this Edward Taylor and has found some amazing connections to Jane Austen’s family – you will see that though Jane may not have had Edward Taylor for herself, future generations saw the Austen and Taylor families very much entwined… so here is Ron to tell us all about it. And thank you Ron for sharing this with us!
A Postscript to Jane Austen’s First Love, by Ronald Dunning
Jane Austen may have been unlucky in her love for Edward Taylor, but four members of his family were more receptive to the attentions of hers. It can be illustrated in a drop-chart of the descendants of Edward Taylor’s parents, Edward Taylor the elder, and Margaret Taylor, to be found on the following link [and see below for an abbreviated version so you can follow the generations]: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=DESC&db=janeausten&id=I17370
Bifrons Park, Kent
The number given to each person indicates the level of descent, with the elder Edward and Margaret in the first position. Their daughter Charlotte [JA’s Edward Taylor’s sister] married the Rev. Edward Northey, a Canon of Windsor, and two of that couple’s daughters married sons of Edward (Austen) Knight.
I. The first, Charlotte Northey, married Henry Knight [son of JA’s brother Edward], after his first wife, Sophia Cage, had died. Poor Charlotte had a very short married life too, dying three years later. Their one daughter, Agnes Charlotte Knight, married Narborough Hughes D’Aeth. Agnes had the good fortune that her mother lacked, and lived a long life of ninety years, during which she bore at least thirteen children.
The surname D’Aeth is pronounced Death by the family. I’m told that during the Second World War a Commander D’Aeth of the Royal Navy was promoted to Captain, but his men refused to serve under a Captain Death – so he felt it was best to change his surname. [One plug, if I may – the names Narborough and Cloudesley were given to many boys born to the D’Aeth family, and the reason is interesting. I wrote about it in an article, to be found here: http://www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk/articles/longitude.html]
II. Returning to the chart, Charlotte Northey’s sister, Mary Northey, married Henry Knight’s brother, the Rev. William Knight. Mary was, like her sister, a second wife, and more than twenty years younger than William. She became the step-mother to his eight children, and bore three daughters of her own, those on the chart. Unfortunately she too was visited by tragedy – the daughters, aged between two and five, all died within a week of one another, from smallpox.
III. There were two further connections, both among the descendants of Jane Austen’s fondly-doted-upon Edward Taylor. (Edward is half-way down the chart, the second person with the generational number 2.) His great-granddaughter Dorothy Mary Deedes (generation 5) married Lionel Charles Edward Knight, a great-grandson of JA’s brother Edward Austen Knight. Fortunately, there is no need to report a family tragedy here, since she lived into ripe old age.
IV. The fourth connection is less obvious – still a descendant of the younger Edward Taylor, but not a person who married a Knight. Nevertheless she brings the story full circle. Dorothy Mary Deedes’s brother, Herbert William Deedes [so Edward Taylor’s great-grandson, but also the great-great-nephew of Edward Austen Knight’s wife Elizabeth Bridges – confused enough now??], had a daughter who is simply identified in the chart as ‘Living Deedes,’ because she is still living. She is the dowager Lady FitzWalter of Goodnestone Park – whence Lady Bridges wrote to announce the betrothal of her daughters, one of them her daughter Elizabeth who married Edward Austen Knight! [see Syrie’s post here on Lady Bridges’ letters] With the Austen pedigree, where one story ends, another begins – Lord and Lady FitzWalter were cousins, both descended from the Bridges. But let’s leave it for another time …
1 Edward TAYLOR of Bifrons; Rector of Patrixbourne b: 26 AUG 1734 [JA’s Edward Taylor’s father]
+ Margaret TAYLOR (LATER PAYLER) b: ABT 1743 d: 27 APR 1780
2Charlotte TAYLOR d: 19 FEB 1837 [Edward Taylor’s daughter]
+ Edward NORTHEY MA, Canon of Windsor b: 22 OCT 1754 d: 18 FEB 1828
3Charlotte NORTHEY d: 28 JUN 1839 [Edward Taylor’s grand-daughter]
+ Henry KNIGHT b: 27 MAY 1797 d: 1843 [son of Edward Austen Knight, JA’s brother]
4 Agnes Charlotte KNIGHT b: 1837 d: 1927 + Narborough Hughes D’AETH of Knowlton Court, Kent; JP, DL, MA b: ABT 1821 d: 1886
5 Lewis Narborough Hughes D’AETH b: 13 MAR 1858 d: 21 OCT 1920
+ Eleanor Frances SNEYD b: ABT 1866
3 Mary NORTHEY b: ABT 1820 d: 07 DEC 1854 [Edward Taylor’s grand-daughter]
+ William KNIGHT Rector of Steventon b: 10 OCT 1798 d: 05 DEC 1873 [son of Edward Austen Knight, JA’s brother]
4 Mary Agnes KNIGHT b: 1843 d: 15 JUN 1848
4 Cecilia KNIGHT b: 1844 d: 09 JUN 1848 4 Augusta KNIGHT b: 1845 d: 09 JUN 1848
2 Edward TAYLOR Esq., of Bifrons, co. Kent; MP for Canterbury (1807-1812) b: 24 JUN 1774 d: 22 JUN 1843 [this is JA’s Edward Taylor, brother to Charlotte Taylor – her daughters Charlotte and Mary each married Jane Austen’s nephews Henry and William as shown above]
+ Louisa BECKINGHAM
3 Emily Octavia TAYLOR
+ William DEEDES of Sandling Park, co. Kent; JP, DL, MP for East Kent b: 17 OCT 1796 d: 30 NOV 1862
4 Louisa DEEDES
4 Emily DEEDES
4 Mary DEEDES
4 William DEEDES b: 11 OCT 1834
4 Herbert George DEEDES King’s Royal Rifle Corps; of Saltwood Castle b: 28 SEP 1836 d: 05 MAY 1891
+ Rose Elinor BARROW
5 Dorothy Mary DEEDES [great-grand-daughter of Edward Taylor]
+ Lionel Charles Edward KNIGHT b: 13 NOV 1872 d: 29 JAN 1931 [great-grandson of Edward Austen Knight, Jane Austen’s brother]
6 Elizabeth Margaret KNIGHT b: 12 MAY 1909 d: 1996
+ Ian Charles Rose ROSE d: 11 DEC 1962
5 Herbert William DEEDES of Galt, Hythe, co. Kent, and formerly of Sandling Castle and Saltwood Castle
+ Melesina Gladys CHENEVIX-TRENCH JP b: 11 SEP 1884 d: 16 JAN 1966
6 William Francis DEEDES Lord Deedes of Aldington (Kent); Editor of the Daily Telegraph b: 1913 d: 2006
6 Living DEEDES [dowager Lady FitzWalter of Goodnestone Park]
+ FitzWalter Brook PLUMPTRE 21st Baron FitzWalter b: 15 JAN 1914 d: 14 OCT 2004
Is your head spinning yet??! If you have questions, please ask away – and any comments on Syrie’s original post will qualify you for the Grand Giveaway – deadline is tonight December 21 at 11:59pm. And just to make your head continue in its spin, here is a portrait of “The Children of John Taylor of Bifrons Park,” by John Closterman, 1696? [from the National Portrait Gallery] – one of these boys is presumably Jane’s own Edward Taylor’s grandfather Herbert Taylor [though he seems to have been born in 1698, so perhaps the dating of the portrait is off? – more questions to ponder!]
“The summer of 1791 is so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems as if my life never really began until that moment – the moment when I first met him.”
And so begins Jane Austen’s First Love…
Gentle Readers: As part of her Holiday Blog Tour, Syrie James joins us today to answer a few questions about her latest book Jane Austen’s First Love. Syrie has based her tale on the real-life Edward Taylor, mentioned by Austen in her letters – he may have been her never-forgotten First Love and hence perhaps a model for her very own Mr. Darcy. Today Syrie tells us a bit about her research into Edward Taylor and his world and a few thoughts on her favorite Austen books in her own collection. Please see below for the Grand Giveaway Contest information…
JAIV: As far as I can tell, there are three references to Edward Taylor in Jane Austen’s letters:
-Ltr. 6 of Sept 15-16, 1796, where she writes ““We went by Bifrons, & I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure, the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”
-Ltr. 14 of Dec 18-19, 1798, where she writes the news of Taylor’s possible inheritance; and
-Ltr. 25 of Nov 8-9, 1800, on news of his possible marriage to a cousin and where she makes mention of “those beautiful dark Eyes” [he marries someone else in 1802]
Can you tell us something of the “ah-ha” moment that prompted you to look into this “fondly doated” upon young man of the “dark Eyes” – and finding nothing much, decided to pursue an extensive research project to learn everything you could about him and his family?? When were you held captive by the idea that Jane Austen indeed could have fallen madly in Love with this young man??
SJ: Sure, Deb! The “ah-ha” moment occurred when I was re-reading the above-quoted letter that Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in Sept. 1796. When I read that line, I sat up in my chair in stunned excitement. Who was Jane talking about? What was Bifrons? Who was the “Him” she referred to? The way she phrased it, whoever it was, it seemed very clear that Jane had once been crazy in love with “Him.”
I quickly learned that the “Him” was a young man named Edward Taylor, and the “abode” was Bifrons Park, the estate in Kent he would one day inherit. To my frustration, there was almost no other information about Edward Taylor in Austen biographies, even though there were those two other mentions of him in later letters that also hinted at how fond she was of him. I knew Jane met him as a teenager while visiting in Kent, but that was about it. So I delved into extensive research—and I’m excited to say that I uncovered his true story. What I learned was groundbreaking. He was an extraordinary young man, and it became very easy to see why Jane fell head over heels for him.
JAIV: I don’t want to ask many questions about the book so as not to give away too much of its plot [no spoilers here!], but I would like to ask, how difficult [or easy!] was it for you to enter into Jane Austen’s head and essentially become her at the age of fifteen? And to put on paper what would be this 15-year-old’s first-person narrative?
SJ: I had such fun writing about Jane Austen at age fifteen! I started with all the qualities she clearly possessed as a grown woman: fierce intelligence, a great (and sometimes snarky) sense of humor, boundless imagination, a love of fashion (governed by a tiny budget), and a driven need to succeed, all tempered by sensitivity and deep affection for those she loved. I then imagined her as a young woman based on what I knew of her life: she grew up in a home filled with noisy, active boys, was educated by them side-by-side, and was included in their sports and games. The juvenilia she wrote as a teenager is also lively and hilarious, an indication of her youthful personality. As with all my other Austen novels, I re-read her work over and over during the composition of this book, to keep her voice in my head.
– What do you consider the best, the I-cannot-live-without, book by or about Jane Austen in your collection?
SJ: That’s hard—I have hundreds of Austen-related books. But I guess the one I turn to the most is Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye. It’s the world’s best window into Jane Austen’s mind, heart, and soul.
JAIV: What book(s) would you say you especially treasure? In the two categories of older / collectible, and more recent works?
I treasure The Taylor Papers (1913), the rare book I discovered when researching Edward Taylor. A collection of memoirs and letters written by Edward’s brother, Sir Herbert Taylor, it filled in a wealth of details about the Taylor family and the children’s extraordinary and well-traveled childhood, enabling me to understand who Edward Taylor was when Jane Austen met him—and why she adored him.
I also dearly treasure my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics (1892, Little Brown & Company). Unfortunately it only includes five of her novels—it’s missing my favorite, Pride and Prejudice.
And I treasure The Brontes: Life and Letters (1908) edited by Clement Shorter, a two-volume work containing all of Charlotte Brontë’s correspondence—it was invaluable when I was writing my novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë.
MORE RECENT PUBLICATIONS
Among my favorites (they’re still all older books!) are a whole shelf full of hardcover annotated versions of a great many classics, from Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, and Dracula, to the 3-volume set The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
JAIV: What title would you most like to own, that either you have been unable to locate or find it is unattainable??
SJ: Pride and Prejudice, (1892, Little Brown & Company) to complete my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics.
JAIV: Ah yes! The elusive missing volume – I have a few of those myself!
All this research, invaluable for your fictional tale, should be made available to Austen scholars! – do you intend to write an article about Taylor and his family for one of the Jane Austen publications? [you must!]
SJ: Actually I did write just such an article. Entitled “Jane’s First Love?” the six-page article with lovely images was published in the July/August 2014 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine.
JAIV: Yes, I read that article Syrie – I do hope everyone is able to read it as well.
Your novel tells of Austen before she met Tom Lefroy, the young man we most often hear as being her first and long-held Love [and further rendered into “truth” by the movie ‘Becoming Jane’…]; your book The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen tells the tale of her mysterious love met at the sea-side in later life. Can you tell us what’s up next??
SJ: I have a few other Austen-tales in mind! At the moment, though, I’m hard at work co-writing the sequel to Forbidden with my talented son, Ryan James.
Now, I just have to ask Syrie, as I know you love the movies: if your book was to become a movie, who would you cast in the major roles?
SJ: For Jane Austen, I think Saoirse Ronan, Hailee Steinfeld, or Kaya Scodelario could be a good choice. For Edward Taylor I’d be thrilled to have the role played by Jamie Blackley (from the film IF I STAY) or Douglas Booth, who played Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (2013.)
Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth
JAIV:I can see that you have thought this through – and all very engaging choices – this book is a sure candidate for a book-to-movie venture, don’t you think?! – Anything else you might like to add Syrie??
SJ: Thank you so much for having me here today, Deb. I’m excited to share Jane Austen’s First Love with the world, just in time for the holidays! Readers, do you have any questions for me? Any specific thoughts about Jane Austen’s First Love, or my other books? I’d love to hear!
Thank you Syrie for joining us today! If you have any questions or comments for Syrie, please respond in the comment box below to enter into the Grand Giveaway Contest – all information is below:
Book Blurb: In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honour of her brother’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door — the wealthy, worldly and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realises that there are obstacles — social, financial and otherwise — blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.
Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.
Grand Giveaway Contest: Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!
Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!
Gentle Readers:David Shapard, author of five annotated editions of Jane Austen’s novels – all but Mansfield Park, which is due out next year – will be joining the JASNA Vermont Region next week at the Burlington Book Festival. He will be speaking on “The World of Jane Austen and her Novels,” offering us a peek into the society of early 19th-century England that dominates her novels, with a focus on the position and customs of the controlling landed elite, and the role of women in this society. I welcome David today for a Q&A about his love of Jane Austen and his excellent annotated editions. If you have any questions for him, please do comment at the end of this post – but better yet, if you are in the area next weekend, please join us at his talk – Saturday September 20, 2014, 1:30-2:45 at the Fletcher Free Library, 235 College St, Burlington VT. [for more info: September 2014 flyer]
So welcome David – thank you for being so gracious in answering all my questions!
JAIV: To start off, why do you think Jane Austen still speaks to us 200 years after she first published her Sense and Sensibility in 1811?
DS: I think Jane Austen interests us partly because she is so good, i.e. quality will out. I believe she is the best novelist in the English language, and that gives her a bedrock appeal, one she has had for a very long time (even if she has not always been the object of as much enthusiasm as today). With her you have well-constructed plots, brilliantly delineated characters, interesting and profound themes, and superb language – meaning excellence in all the major elements of a novel. One symptom of this is the variety of reasons people have for appreciating Austen: people, in giving their reasons, have cited, among other things, her comedy, her poignant romances, her keen insight into human psychology, her careful depiction of society, and her moral messages. With so many strong elements, she can appeal to an array of tastes and interests. Another reason is that, even though her novels are set firmly within her own time, she was looking at many matters that transcend that time. Her focus is on basic matters that people always have to deal with, whom to marry, how to relate to other people, how to judge right and wrong, how to cope with the difficulties of life. Her characters personality traits, feelings, relationships, and moral dilemmas are all ones that are still frequently found today, so the insights and lessons presented in her novels can still ring true today.
JAIV: Whatever got you so interested in Jane Austen to first take on annotating Pride and Prejudice (in 2004)?
DS: I had long loved Jane Austen, for many of the reasons described in my previous answer. But there were several precipitating factors that spurred me to attempt an annotated version of her novel. In the six months or so preceding the decision I had begun to read and sometimes participate in an online forum devoted to Jane Austen, The Republic of Pemberley. This, in addition to being very enjoyable, helped me appreciate how much interest and discussion even very specific points in Austen could generate. That eventually gave me the idea of doing a running commentary on her novels, in which various passages would be examined and elucidated. One feature of Austen is that she is a very subtle author, who makes many of her points quietly and unobtrusively; she also is one who is especially good in the details. For this reason the standard format for analysis of a novel, an article or book examining it as a whole, and looking at the overall theme, would inevitably miss much of what makes her so worth reading. But these elements could be brought out through a more minute analysis of the entire novel. At that time this idea was simply one for the indefinite future. But soon after events occurred that convinced me that I was unlikely to procure a permanent, full-time position teaching at a college or university, the profession I had been pursuing for a number of years. I decided to turn to writing, which I had long seen as my principal alternative. I had a longstanding idea for a book, but work on it soon persuaded me that it was the great idea I had earlier thought. While casting around for other ideas I suddenly thought again of my Austen project. I had seen annotated versions of other classic works, and liked them. I also knew there was a large market for anything related to Austen. So I decided to try this, and I quickly realized that I had made an excellent choice.
JAIV: We think so too! ~ Which novel is your favorite? And why? And did your favorite change after your in-depth readings and the historical research?
DS:Mansfield Park is my favorite overall. I like what I consider its density, the many story lines and the many different complex subjects it explores. At the same time, while the plot is very eventful, it does not rely at all on improbable coincidences, as others of Austen do to some degree. Finally, it has four different characters – Fanny, Edmund, Mary, and Henry – whose inner life is shown, who change over the course of the novel, and who experience serious inner conflicts. In other Austen novels there are only one or two characters about whom that could be said. This has not really changed because of my doing the annotated books. The main change that brought about was simply to increase my appreciation for each one; this was especially true for the four I consider her strongest, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, and Mansfield Park (I am only part way through doing the last).
JAIV: Why the long gap before the next annotated edition came out, Persuasion in 2010? And when does Mansfield Park come out?
DS: I had first done Pride and Prejudice because I knew it was by far the most popular. I held off doing others until I knew how well it did, and it took a number of years before it succeeded. I wasn’t able to sell it initially, then I self-published it, then somebody at Random House noticed it and approached me about signing with them. After that came out, and did well, my editor there approached me again about doing the other Austen novels. Mansfield Park will come out next year, probably late in the year. The gap between it and the previous one, Northanger Abbey, is the result of my having devoted much of the last year to working on a special enhanced version of Pride and Prejudice that is designed for an iPad. It comes out in a few weeks, and I am very excited about it, but it has significantly delayed Mansfield Park.
– JAIV: Does Jane Austen get anything wrong?
DS: She got very little wrong. All I have noticed is a mistake on a date of a letter in Pride and Prejudice, and two specific events, one in Emma and one in Sense and Sensibility, that are probably wrong, based on what I have read about the history of the time. There are also at least a couple places where a quotation from a poem or other writing is off. But that is really a remarkable record, especially when you consider that she didn’t have a large library to consult for quotations or other references.
JAIV: What do you think of the films? – do you have a favorite? Any that you find completely appalling?
DS: I like the films overall. They are no substitute for reading the novels, since much of what is in there cannot be shown on film. But the films can do things the novels cannot, such as show houses and carriages and costumes, as well as specific places. That is something I have also done in my books, and the visual adaptations go even further in that direction. It is also nice to see the characters brought to life by real people, even though I inevitably judge them according to how well they correspond to the characters in the novel and often find them wanting, at least in certain respects. In terms of favorites, I would probably say the Sense and Sensibility written by Emma Thompson. I also like the Persuasion with Amanda Root and the Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I did not like overall the series of TV adaptations that appeared a few years ago, and I thought the Mansfield Park of that series was the worst of any adaptation I have seen.
JAIV: Oh! I agree with you there, though the Persuasion with Anne running around the street in a panic while reading the Captain’s letter is embarrassing to watch as well! ~ Tell us something about your writing process: when and how?
DS: I usually start by reading through the novel several times, and as carefully as possible; while doing so I note any possible point I might wish to make or passage I wish to explore further or think about. I also listen to audio versions with the same purpose in mind, for I find that in hearing it I sometimes notice things I don’t notice when simply reading it. Then for the historical references, which is what requires the most effort, I organized all the points or topics I want to look at by subject matter, and start reading, or rereading, various books related to those topics. I also, at some point, read through commentaries on the novel to see what additional insights they offer, re-examine Austen’s letters and other biographical material to see what’s relevant there, and look at the words I might need to define; I use here a pre-existing list of words with different meanings in Austen’s time, supplemented for what I may have noticed in addition through my reading. As I do all these things I often go ahead and write the annotations appropriate to what I’ve just found. When all that is done I begin to go through the book chapter by chapter and insert whatever points have not been made. After that it’s just a series of reading over again and making corrections, by myself and by my editor, until the text is finally settled, and also adding other material like illustrations and maps.
JAIV: How do you think your annotated editions compare to the Harvard University annotated series that began in 2010 with P&P [their Mansfield Park is due out in the Fall of 2015, edited by Deidre Lynch]
DS: I am not that familiar with these other annotated versions. I know they are in hardcover and are significantly larger (and therefore also more expensive); they also have some color pictures. In terms of the content, my sense is that they have fewer annotations. In the case of the one that I have read, the Pride and Prejudice, it does have fewer annotations overall. Some of its annotations, especially definitions of words, are similar to mine. The principal difference is that it focuses less on historical background – there are definitely fewer annotations there – and more on literary interpretations. It has a number of annotations that explore debates between different literary scholars regarding points in the novel, something mine does not do.
JAIV: The covers for each work: did you choose them yourself? – and the idea of annotating them is a very good one – gets the reader right into ‘reading the annotations’ mode!
DS: The publisher comes up with the cover, along with the overall design, though they always show it to me for my approval. They had the idea of doing annotations for the cover, but I am the one who comes up with the annotations themselves. That is also part of the process of agreeing on a cover picture: it has to be one that I think will be suitable for annotating.
JAIV: I know you mention “plot disclosures” at the beginning of the book to alert readers that some of your notes might contain “spoiler alerts” – did you get complaints about that when the first edition of your P&P first came out?
DS: Yes, I did get some complaints about my first edition of Pride and Prejudice. I had envisioned the book being used by many people as a reference, one they would turn to whenever they were curious about a specific point; thus I didn’t worry so much about plot spoilers. But it seems that most people have simply read it through, as with most books, and that many are reading the novel for the first time. As a consequence, I have tried harder in later editions to avoid giving anything significant away. That has constrained me in some respects, because important points about a passage often relate to something that happens later, but I think it’s worth it to avoid spoiling the surprise for the reader. The one important exception here was in Emma: it centers around several mysteries, especially one big one, and I felt that a valuable feature of an annotated edition would lie in showing how all sorts of apparently minor and innocuous actions take on a completely different significance in light of what we find out in the end. So in the case of the annotations for those passages, I put “CAUTION: PLOT SPOILER” at the start to warn off any first-time readers who wished to preserve the surprise.
– JAIV: Are you a book collector? And Jane Austen in particular? – if so, what is your favorite edition of any of her works, and why?
DS: I like to buy books and I have a large library, but I am not a collector in the sense of seeking out rare or special editions. The editions of Jane Austen I have used are those that are most scholarly and authoritative: these are an Oxford edition that first came out in the 1920’s, and the even more exhaustive Cambridge editions (with many notes of their own) that have come out within the last decade. JAIV: You are nearly done with annotating the six novels – what’s up next? Will you annotate the minor works or any of the Juvenilia?
DS: I am close to being done with annotating the novels. It is possible the publisher will also want to do enhanced editions of other Austen novels; I’m sure that will be determined by how well the Pride and Prejudice about to appear does. I have thought about annotating other Austen works, but I am not sure if there is sufficient demand for that. I also have a few ideas for novels of my own, some related to Jane Austen. But right now I am keeping my options open and waiting to see what develops out of my existing books.
JAIV: Why do you think the modern reader should have a better understanding of the society of the Regency Period? and can the reader still enjoy Jane Austen without having to read annotated versions?
DS: I think that understanding the Regency period helps greatly in understanding Jane Austen. Of course, millions of people have enjoyed and appreciated Jane Austen over the years without having any particular knowledge of her period, beyond what they could pick up from the novels themselves. I know I was in that situation when I first read her. So such knowledge is in no way a precondition. But I think that if one understands the historical background, all sorts of important events in the novels become much clearer and more comprehensible, and all sorts of particular details, ones the reader probably passed over without much thought, become significant. The story then springs to life in a variety of new ways.
David M. Shapard (c) Michael Lionstar
Thank you David again for joining us here at Jane Austen in Vermont! We look forward to welcoming you to the real Vermont next weekend, where there will be an opportunity at the Book Festival to purchase all your Jane Austen annotated editions and have you personally sign them! I will also add here that David will be the leader on a tour next spring to Jane Austen’s England. The trip will be through Edventures, a tour group that offers educational trips to many parts of the world – or as they say, “Edventures – Adventure Travel That Educates.” You can read more about it here: http://goedventures.com/ – and click here for the flier with details: Huber-Jane Austen 2015 Itinerary April 21 Any questions for David? – please comment below! Further reading: